Reuters Knows Why: Med Migration Slowdown

WEEKLY REPORT AUG 24

REUTERS KNOWS WHY: MED MIGRATION SLOWDOWN

Reuters stole the show this week with a report on August 21 by Aidan Lewis explaining that a new armed group stopping human traffickers in Libya is responsible for the decrease in seaborne migration to Italy. The article came out, funnily enough, three days after the New York Times published an article identifying the drop in migration and claiming that “nobody knows why” -- clearly they were only referring to their own staff.

The Italians, no doubt a driving force behind these abrupt changes, have refrained from popping the champagne just yet. On August 15 the Interior Minister Marco Minniti, regarded as the man in charge of managing the migration crisis, spoke with measured optimism at the end of a press conference about “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Italy has approached the migrant problem with a dual track strategy, strengthening Libya's efforts to fight smuggling and at the same time putting pressure on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in rescue operations,” Minniti said according to Reuters.

Although Italy has been heavily criticized for taking action on migration by the UN and aid groups, Minniti said that aid would be distributed to migrant hubs in Libya like Sabratha and Zowarah. How and how much remains to be seen.

The pressure that forced various NGO ships to quit their search and rescue missions over the last two weeks has not relented. On August 17, the Libyan coast guard seized the NGO ship Golfo Azzuro for two hours in Libyan waters, ANSA reported.

Other NGO ships are still operating, though at a reduced capacity. MOAS's Phoenix brought 235 migrants to Italy on August 19 according to the Times of Malta, and the MSF ship Aquarius carried over 121 to Italy the same week. However, the number are very low compared with previous months and it is reported that the Libyan coast guard has been turning back hundreds of migrants to Libya. 

The big question mark, now that migration has been drastically reduced, is what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of migrants waiting in Libya if they can no longer go to Italy. Having already paid for the trip to Libya, most will probably not want to go back home.

Deportations do not seem like a feasible solution, although on August 18 Libya deported 135 Nigerians. Some of the migrants will certainly change routes, as was seen on August 17 when over 600 migrants were rescued off the coast of Spain. This year, Spain may see more migrant arrivals than Greece.

But nobody knows what the migrants stuck in Libya will do (least of all the NYT).

Meanwhile, Italy's neighbor Austria continues to show solidarity by sending 70 soldiers to block migrants at the Brenner Pass in northern Italy.

In other news, the anti-immigrant ship C-Star has gone home after running out of batteries for their megaphone. Their mission was a resounding success or a humiliating failure, depending on who you talk to.

That's all for this week -- I'm going to be taking a bicycle trip around Sicily in September to research the various migrant centers and informal settlements around the island, so I'm going to publish one more weekly report on August 31 and then stop for a few weeks in order to publish stories about my travels. Stay tuned!

SW
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