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Migrant Influx Shifting but No Let-Up

© AFP/File / by Michel VIATTEAU | As ever greater numbers of migrants risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean from Africa, the European Union has beefed up its border agency Frontex to try and check the mass influx.

© AFP/File / by Michel VIATTEAU | As ever greater numbers of migrants risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean from Africa, the European Union has beefed up its border agency Frontex to try and check the mass influx.

WARSAW (AFP) – The migrants pouring into Europe have changed routes: the crossing between Turkey and Greece is practically closed, but ever greater numbers are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy.

A criminal industry has flourished, while the European Union has beefed up its border agency Frontex to try to check the mass migration.

Frontex is at once both good cop and bad cop, rescuing migrants from sinking boats but also dropping them off at welcome centres where they risk being sent back home.

Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri summed up the situation in an interview with AFP.

– Who are the migrants? –

On the shores of Greece there are now “80 or 100 people who arrive every day, whereas we had 2,500 a day” before the agreement with Turkey, said Leggeri.

Among those who arrive from Africa via the central Mediterranean and Libya, whose number is up by more than 40 percent, most come from west Africa. They are Senegalese, Guineans, Nigerians. In 2016 they totalled 180,000.

They are mainly economic migrants and include many young men but also families and young women. Nigerian women are often exploited as prostitutes in Europe.

“It’s not the poorest who leave, because they have to be able to pay the smugglers,” said Leggeri.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), of the more than one million people who made it to Europe in 2015, 850,000 crossed into Greece via the Aegean Sea. More than half came from Syria and most of the rest from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Following a landmark EU-Turkey accord in March 2016, the total number arriving in Europe by sea fell that year to around 363,000, IOM figures show.

But as the number of arrivals in Greece dropped, the figures arriving from north Africa started to grow.

By mid-April 2017, “some 36,000 migrants had arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, or an increase of 43 percent over the same period last year,” according to Frontex.

– Who are the smugglers? –

At the beginning of the most dangerous leg of the trip across the Sahara, the migrants are transported by Tuareg or Tebu nomads, for whom it is a traditional commercial activity, Leggeri said.

The Mediterranean crossing however is run by criminal networks, both big and small, as well as lone smugglers.

At the bottom of the ladder there are petty crooks, sometimes migrants themselves, who become the skippers of the small overloaded boats to pay for their own crossing, according to Leggeri.

Then there are the middlemen who collect the money and organise the trip but who do not board. Their bosses are the network chiefs who “likely include people who previously worked in the police force” in Libya, Leggeri said.

– How much money is involved? –

Coming up with an estimate is not easy but according to a recent report by the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol, gangs smuggling migrants to or within Europe raked in 4.7 billion-5.7 billion euros ($5.1 billion-$6.1 billion) in 2015 … (read more)

Source: France 24

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