More than 5,800 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast over the weekend, according to the Italian coastguard. In seventeen separate operations the migrants were picked up from wooden or rubber boats by Italian and French ships. The total number of people rescued is reportedly expected to increase. So far, the busiest two days this year for rescues were April 12th and 13th when around 6,500 people were saved. The coming weeks are expected to see increasing levels of migrants due to calmer weather allowing a higher level of success. The crossings have led to the passing of at least 1,750 people this year compared to just 96 people at this time in 2014, which has pushed for a reaction by European Union member states.
Libya has been seen as a key geographical location for migrants attempting the crossing from North Africa to Southern Europe for quite some time. Former leader Al-Qaddafi was known to prevent migration in return for concessions by European states. During the 2011 civil engagement in the country, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 which called for the protection of civilians and the establishment of a ‘no-fly’ zone. NATO operations aimed at the removal of Al-Qaddafi from power eventually succeeded. Although, since the passing of Al-Qaddafi, Libya has undergone challenging situations with the country split between a Tobruk-based government and a Tripoli-based government. Islamist groups and a branch of ISIS are also reported to have a presence and this environment may have led to an increase in the levels of migrants attempting to gain access to Europe.
Previously, Italy ran the Mare Nostrum rescue operations, which resulted in the saving of tens of thousands of lives, according to Amnesty International. Last year the operations changed to a smaller operation called ‘Triton’ due to some EU members, including the United Kingdom, calling for a more reduced cost operation. British policy was highlighted last year in the House of Lords in a written answer by Foreign Office Minister Lady Anelay who called the Mare Nostrum rescue operation a ‘pull factor’ for migrants.
Libya is seen as a ‘gateway’ to Europe for many migrants seeking access to Europe from countries in Africa and the Middle East. Situations in Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa may be seen to create environments that motivate people to seek a better quality of life. According to the EU, more than three million Syrian refugees have entered neighbouring countries with some attempting to travel to Europe. Germany and Sweden have led the way in accepting Syria’s refugees by accepting, between them, 100,000 of the 150,000 total in European Union member countries. 2015 has seen the amount of migrants attempting to traverse the crossing increase with the continued open border of Libya.
The European Union appeared to believe that the increased chances of being rescued under the Mare Nostrum encouraged migrants to attempt the crossing. Although with the numbers of migrants attempting to cross increasing there apparently was call for EU member states to meet and discuss the situation. During an EU summit, leaders promised to send naval assets in an attempt to control the situation. Amnesty International believe that more needs to be done due to the amount of migrants. The increasing EU presence in the Mediterranean highlights the changing attitude towards the affairs and the movement towards securing the area.
The levels of migrants attempting to gain access to the EU is the result of a number of different circumstances. The situation in Syria and Iraq has created many refugees whom feel their best opportunity is travelling to the EU. Equally, African migrants feel that there is a better quality of life and greater opportunities for employment. A possible option may be to attempt to establish refugee camps on the Libyan coast and begin processing people there. This may prevent migrants from attempting to cross whilst also giving the opportunity to be resettled in a better environment.
How might potential changes in the EU rescue operations help the situation?