Where Have All the Migrants Gone?
As reported in numerous news feed articles, Italy has given up hope of getting any help from the European Union in dealing with the flood of migrants that have been landing on its southern islands and mainland littorals for the past six years.
The Italian government has decided to take matters into its own hands, and is pursuing several simultaneous strategies to stanch the flow across the Mediterranean. One such policy is to train and equip the Libyan coast guard to interdict and return the migrants before they leave Libyan territorial waters. Another is to demand that NGO “rescue” ships sign a new code of conduct about their methods of handing their migrant passengers, and deny port privileges to any NGO that fails to comply.
And let’s face it: the North African end of the strategy involves a lot of good old-fashioned bribery, even if it is tarted up and re-branded as “aid”, “training funds”, etc. Shipping migrants across the Med, especially with the NGOs doing a lot of the actual transport, is a lucrative business. But if the Italians outbid the Soros-funded migrants, a new business model will emerge among the gangsters and warlords of Libya, and the flow will stop.
Why markedly fewer refugees are suddenly arriving from across the Mediterranean
In Italy, the numbers of migrants crossing over from the Mediterranean has massively declined.
The government in Rome attributes this to their successful training of the Libyan cost guard.
But the immense decline may also be connected with a dubious militia.
It appears that in Sabratha, a port in the Northwest of Libya only 70 kilometres from the capital Tripoli, there is a militia with several hundred armed members who see to it that no ships with refugees depart from there to Italy anymore. The gang is allegedly named “Brigade 48”, but this is not entirely certain. Their boss is allegedly a former mafia member, maybe even a former trafficker, but his identity, too, is blurred. The group patrols the streets and the beaches of Sabratha, a town of 100,000 inhabitants, as if they were the police.
The coast was the great hope for migrants from Western Africa and Bangladesh, their port for the last leg of their journey across the central Mediterranean to Europe, so it is critical who this gang is, what drives them, who funds them.
It even appears that the mysterious militia, as reported by the Reuters news agency a few days ago in an exclusive story, is one of the main factors for the marked decrease in the passages to Italy — even though it is not the only one.
Italians have been wondering for weeks why suddenly so fewer refugees from Libya are coming to them than in previous years. The route across the Mediterranean is almost empty, just in summer, when normally it is particularly heavily travelled in good weather with a calm sea.
In August, 2,932 migrants arrived on the southern Italian shores, while there were 21,294 in August 2016. The decease is particularly astonishing, as it began so suddenly. Until May it was thought that 2017 would become a record year with more than 200,000 arrivals. No one believes that now.
The Libyan Coast Guard Intervenes, Too
There are different attempts at explanations. For example, the Libyan coast guard finally acquired the necessary means to stop the overcrowded traffickers’ boats in Libyan waters, and return them to the shore, to the camps. The Italians trained them for that. They delivered speedboats and equipment, and money changed hands, too. More than 11,000 people were hindered by the Libyan coast guard on their journey [sic!] since Rome made a deal with Tripoli in February. Until then, the coast guard had a dubious reputation: some of the guards allegedly made a profit from the traffickers’ business.
Another reason for the decrease, which the Italian government sees as their merit, is Rome’s new way of dealing with the private life-savers in the Mediterranean. Interior Minister Marco Minniti forced the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who had fetched tens of thousands of migrants on board in the previous years, to sign a controversial code of conduct, intended to restrict them.
It includes, for example, a provision that the NGOs can not turn the migrants over to the crews of the Italian marine and coast guard, but that they have to bring them to Italy themselves, which costs time and money.
So currently there are only two ships of such rescue organizations cruising off Libya: the Phoenix, operated by the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station of two Italo-American businesspeople, and the Golfo Azzurro by Proactiva Open Arms, the organization of the Catalan activist Oscar Camps. But the refugee movements had already begun decreasing before Minniti issued his codex.
The Controls Have a Deterrent Effect
Another thesis being debated is whether Italy’s efforts in southern Libya, at the borders of Niger and Chad, may be bearing fruits already. There, deals were made with tribes for them to control the border passes more effectively. Europe expects the sub-Saharan countries to stop the large movements through their countries in exchange for millions in aid. The newspaper Corriere della Sera writes that this series of new controls is already a deterrent — up to the countries where most migrants originate from.
But it seems that this supposition comes too early. Besides, there are hundreds of thousands of refugees who are already in Libya, waiting for a good moment for their flight. So the assumption seems increasingly plausible that the armed gang of Sabratha plays a considerable role in the decrease in passages. Eyewitnesses who nevertheless managed the trip report after their arrival in Italy that it had become extremely complicated to get passage on a boat in Sabratha.
It seems that the Brigade 48 recruit their members from among former police and military. One may wonder if this group, shrouded in mystery, might be on the payroll of the government in Tripoli, who in turn receives money from Europe, to control the coasts. It would be an important term. Until now, the whole strip between Tripoli and the Tunisian border was seen as an anarchist ground of rivalling local potentates, jihadis, smugglers of all sorts: drugs, oil, weapons, and especially people. Camps rose in the hinterland of Sabratha, where the refugees are held like pawns. Sometimes they are let go, sometimes they are kept — depending on what pays more.