In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that Italy has been paying armed groups in Libya to cease smuggling migrants into the country. Some estimate that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Italy has reduced by half compared to the same time period last year. At the heart of the issue is a governance vacuum that allows armed groups to control the flow of migrants in and out of Libya, presenting a unique challenge for governments in North and West Africa and EU policymakers.
The Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, last week issued a plea to his European colleagues for help in dealing with migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Combined with the threat to close off Italian ports to vessels disembarking migrants from search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian government called for more burden-sharing generally in distributing migrants across the EU. This entreaty was reiterated on Sunday, July 2nd, in a meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers from Italy, France and Germany. It is certain to feature predominantly at the EU meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers on July 6th and 7th.
The background to this call is a marked increase in irregular crossings from Libya to Italy – the so-called Central Mediterranean route – a situation that has been complicated by reports of more than 10,000 refugees and migrants arriving in Italy in recent days. Statistics from Frontex (the EU’s border agency) indicate that arrivals and asylum applications are roughly 25% higher in Italy than at the same time last year (see Figure 1) – a figure that is likely to increase with the release of data from June. First-time asylum seekers in the period from January to April are up by 50%. If arrivals follow a similar pattern to that of previous years, where summer is the prime time for irregular Mediterranean crossings, the EU is likely to hear from Italy again rather soon. Another reason for the plea lies in the lack of implementation – to put it mildly – of the one-off relocation scheme decided in 2015, whereby 35,000 asylum seekers located in Italy are to be distributed among member states before September of this year. Currently, only 7,300 have left Italy under this scheme (EC, 2017).
Within two weeks of taking power, new United States President Donald Trump has signed a number of executive orders that have caused alarm around the world. Perhaps the most controversial of these was an immigration ban that indefinitely suspended the entry and resettlement of Syrian refugees to the US and enacted a 90-day ban on travelers from six Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. While fears about Muslim immigration are widespread in the US and elsewhere, a significant body of research has failed to find justification for such policies. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that they might make the targeted problem of Islamic extremism much worse.
The Trump administration has justified the move as “preventive” and designed to reduce terror threats facing the US, yet the Cato Institute finds that not a single person (including refugees) from any of the Muslim-majority countries included has been involved in a terrorist attack in the US in the past 40 years. Data provided by the New America Foundation (since 9/11) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005-2014) has, meanwhile, found that on a 10-year average, 11,737 Americans are likely to be killed from gun violence per year, compared with just two by Muslim jihadi immigrants.
This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 18 December 2016.
Migration has persisted in one form or another throughout the centuries: from nomadic hunters to industrial labourers, from traders to seafarers, from colonists to persecuted minorities. Many migration routes—like those that traverse the Sahara or meander through the Amazonian border regions of Brazil, Ecuador and Peru—pre-date the states whose borders they cross. And yet, the study of vulnerable human mobility and our commitment to the protection of migrants and their rights are relatively recent.
Comprised of numerous and often competing narratives, public discourse on migration is indicative of its complexity. However, often framed at the state or regional level, it also obscures the human dimensions of migration. On International Migrants Day, it’s worth reflecting on the number and experiences of people on the move.
While much attention is rightly focused on Syria and the Middle East, there are a growing number of refugees in the Western Hemisphere.
The largest group comes from Central America’s Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. For each of the past three years between 300,000 and 450,000 Central Americans have fled north. Of these, between 45,000 and 75,000 are unaccompanied children; another 120,000 to 180,000 families (usually a mother with children); and between 130,000 to 200,000 single adults. These numbers peaked in May and June 2014 when more than 8,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border each month. 2016 numbers are again rising, with August inflows higher than ever before.
These migrants are fleeing violence (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are some of the most dangerous nations in the world), poverty, and the economic devastation wrought after three years of record droughts. They are pulled to the United States through personal ties. One study of interviewed minors found 90 percent had a mother or father in the United States. Many of these U.S. residents from Honduras and El Salvador came on temporary protected status (TPS) visas, meaning they can live and work legally in the United States but may not sponsor other family members (including their children).