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Intercepted migrant numbers double, but still low when compared to previous figures

Sep 23, 2021

By Ebrahim Deen

Over the past week, two vessels rescued over 190 migrants off the Libyan coast en route to Italy, with dozens more reportedly drowning. The International Organisation for Migration reports that more than 24 thousand migrants have been intercepted on this perilous journey since the start of the year, more than double the 11 thousand intercepted in 2020. In addition, over 1100 have died in the first half of 2021, compared to around 980 in 2020.

The organisation further notes that only 6000 of the intercepted would-be migrants were accounted for in Libyan detention centres. The rest were often kidnapped, trafficked, sexually abused, and even sold into slavery in Libya.

The EU has in recent years entered into agreements with countries such as Niger in an attempt to externalise its immigration and refugee policy and so as migrants do not reach its shores, which would entail specific minimum standards. This has had success, with numbers radically lower than the 150 thousand annually between 2015 and 2017; however, these measures have often seen migrants detained, tortured and even sold into slavery on reaching Libya.

Speaking to Radio Islam International, Michelangelo Severgnini, a researcher who has interviewed returning and repatriated migrants, noted that the number of migrants now succeeding in reaching Italy has dropped “out of 70 would-be migrants, only two would succeed”.

Severgnini also noted the abhorrent conditions intercepted migrants face, with many being tortured and detained without due process. Further, he stressed how these individuals usually could no longer return, making the country awash with migrants.

He also argued that dealing with the migrant issue was political. Despite NGOs and human rights organisations on the ground, the problem was political, both from within Libya and the EU.

Further, he argued that finding a political solution to the Libyan conflict would help ensure better conditions for the migrants. The general lawlessness and presence of militia groups in the country intensifies the problem and allows ample space for abuse.

Significantly is the fact that even though migrants sold into slavery are much less when compared to overall numbers, many others are trapped, not able to find jobs or return home, in conditions akin to a form of slavery.

Migration to Europe from Libya has dropped drastically in recent years, since its zenith between 2015 and 2017, mainly because the EU outsourced the problem to African countries and its financing and training Libya’s coastguard. However, tackling the problem requires dealing with economic conditions domestically.

Significantly, two-thirds of migrants interviewed argue that they would likely return when conditions in their home countries improve. The migration problem has also exposed Europe’s attempted cultural preservation and xenophobia and contributed to the rise of fascist parties in Italy, Hungry and France.

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