Migration challenges must be addressed
Libya has been calling on its African neighbours to toughen up border security over concerns that large numbers of people have been smuggled across its borders since the end of the civil war last year. Moreover, a deteriorating security situation in southern Libya has led Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal to describe it as threatening to increase illegal immigration into Europe from Africa.
Following talks in Rome, the Libyan minister said that, for the moment, the situation is not too bad. However, there were indications that it could worsen. “African immigrants have arrived at the Egyptian-Libyan border. The numbers are not that big but they could increase and that is why we are giving this warning,” he said.
Malta’s present experience points to the same direction. There have been repeated arrivals of boat people over the past days. Each arrival not only exacerbates an already difficult situation Malta has been facing but is also another sad story of an unfolding human tragedy.
The porosity of the Libyan borders makes it rather easy to reach the coast with the aim of crossing the Mediterranean. Caritas Italy has warned that when the weather is good “thousands are ready to come to Italy”. Oliviero Forti, head of the immigration section of Caritas in Italy, could have been stating the obvious when he told this to a three-day meeting for Caritas organisations operating in the Mediterranean earlier this month in Cagliari. And, yet, that is the stark reality.
This year’s Caritas forum, known as MigraMed, was dedicated to the dialogue between the two shores of Mare Nostrum. It touched on, among other themes, the conflict in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the reception of migrants and perspectives of migration.
According to Caritas, the situation of sub-Saharan migrants in Libya has worsened and boatloads of people, including many women and children, are expected to head towards Italy in the coming weeks. This despite the Libyan authorities’ continued efforts to prevent people from taking to the sea.
The general feeling among non governmental organisations in contact with sub-Africans in Libya is that these people want to cross to Europe because racism has increased in their regard mainly due to the action of certain organised groups hunting blacks. Moreover, work opportunities are still lacking as foreign companies have yet to return to the country.
Caritas Italy recognises that the transitional government in Libya is unable to manage the flow of migrants. It does not see the present situation as amounting to a mass exodus as was the experience during the Arab Spring. However, it fears the phenomenon will still overburden an already-saturated reception system in Italy. Of course, the same could be said with regard to Malta.
After his exchanges with his Libyan counterpart, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi described immigration as a big and urgent issue to be tackled at European level. He said Italy was stepping up cooperation to improve monitoring and border controls and would seek a bigger contribution from EU partners.
This is imperative if the phenomenon is to be addressed at its source. Along with preparing itself adequately for the potential new wave of summer immigrants, Malta, like Italy, must continue to voice its concerns in the EU loud and clear. There exists an urgent need to swiftly put in place a new EU cooperation plan, hand in hand with the Libyan government and the UNHCR, to also ensure international protection for all those needing it.