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Human Rights Migration Humanitarian Issues

The Push and Pull of the World’s Most Dangerous Migration Route – What’s Really Behind The Flock of Thousands to Europe These Days?

Migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa in August 2007. Image: Sara Prestianni/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Politics in Spires on 22 February, 2015.

The  Mediterranean Sea is today’s most dangerous border between countries not at war with each other. Just last week, 300 persons departing Libya on four rubber dinghies have gone missing at sea, after drifting for days without food and water. News reports in the past six months have regularly commented upon the rising number of persons disembarking on Italy’s coastline – benefiting from its search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum. Despite the increase in new arrivals from 33,000 to 200,000, the life-saving mission has now been discarded. Italian policy makers believe Mare Nostrum is as responsible for overcrowded reception centres as it is for the rising number of persons risking their lives at sea. But is it truly to blame for the surge? Because more than 50 per cent of arrivals are either Syrian or Eritrean, news commentators have provided some other potential explanations. Some point to the protracted conflict in the Middle East, whilst others highlight the strain on neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in continuing to receive thousands of Syrian refugees. “Poverty in Africa” is mentioned occasionally, and for the better informed, an oppressive military regime and indefinite conscription in Eritrea are to blame. Yet these supposed  ‘causes’ of the latest wave in irregular migration to Europe are speculative at most and have in fact been ongoing for many years now.