Trans-Mediterranean migration surges, exacerbating international concerns
On 17 August, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stated that 20,257 migrants had been intercepted on their way to Europe and returned to Libya since January, and that this figure represented a ‘100% increase’ compared to the same period last year. Experts believe the surge in migration was due to the restoration of stable security conditions in Libya following the end of the War for Tripoli in June 2020 and a drive by smugglers to ‘make up for lost time’ after a slowdown in migration due to COVID-19.
Trans-Mediterranean migration has been an issue of growing concern for European governments as well as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) concerned about human rights. In particular, Italy has stepped up its efforts to lead a multi-lateral European approach to curb migration from Libya.
Meanwhile, the Libyan Coastguard and the larger Libyan security apparatus has come under heavy criticism for their treatment of returned migrants. On 2 July, a German NGO captured on video the Libyan Coastguard firing, throwing objects at and trying to ram into a migrant boat attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The organisation, Sea-Watch, called the episode a ‘brutal attack’, following which the Associated Press reported that Libya’s navy had acknowledged that the shots by Coastguard forces had endangered the lives of migrants.
The rapid rise in migration levels across the Mediterranean will continue to stoke European, and particularly Italian, concern. Any joint European strategy requires the Libyan government to have the capability and willingness to crack down on the powerful and insidious smuggling networks which operate in western Libya.