Border chiefs warn of migrant numbers
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Border chiefs warn of migrant numbers

Thousands of migrants are said to be waiting in Libya to make the perilous crossing to Europe this summer. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Thousands of migrants are said to be waiting in Libya to make the perilous crossing to Europe this summer. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A summer of “high migration pressure” in the central Mediterranean is predicted by the EU’s border agency Frontex, whose intelligence points to thousands of migrants in Libya waiting to cross over to Europe.

Intelligence gathered during interviews with asylum seekers suggests that migrants, who are subject to frequent racial attacks, are gathering in increasing numbers in Libya, a Frontex report says.

This is coupled with worsening political stability and internal security in Egypt, prompting the agency to say that “the migration pressure in the central Mediterranean region is likely to remain at a high level”.

Most migrants who flee Libya end up in Lampedusa or Sicily but many find their way to Malta. The country was severely affected last year, with 2,008 reaching its shores.

The increase was both sudden and dramatic

Migrant crossings normally slow down to a trickle during the winter months but human traffickers’ preparations for the new ‘season’ will now be in full swing, with the improving weather conditions providing new opportunities for crossings.

According to the Frontex report, the central Mediterranean region – the straits between Libya, Malta and Sicily – was the busiest clandestine migration route last summer, with higher numbers than in the previous five years.

Of 42,618 illegal border crossings detected in the European Union between July and September, more than half – 22,000 – were between Libya and Sicily.

‘Highest numbers of the past two years’

“Compared to detections during every other quarter in 2012 and 2013, the increase was both sudden and dramatic,” the report states.

The data show that the main nationalities were Eritrean and Syrian, each with nearly 6,000 detections and together accounting for more than half of the flow.

Also significant were detections of nearly 2,700 Somalis, around 1,800 Nigerians and 1,000 Egyptians.

“All of these nationalities were detected in much higher numbers than at any other time over the past two years, representing a massive surge of irregular migration at EU level.”

Last summer the government reacted forcefully to the influx, threatening to send migrants back. However, an urgent decision by the European Court of Human Rights stopped this plan in its tracks.

Malta had experienced other significant influxes of irregular immigration before, the record coming in 2008 when 2,704 immigrants landed here.

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