28th Jul 2021

More and more Africans risk sea crossing to EU

UN figures indicate a big leap in the number of African migrants crossing the Mediterranean to the EU, with people increasingly willing to take the risk in winter as well as summertime.

Over 35,000 African migrants landed in Italy in 2008 compared to some 20,000 in 2007, according to fresh figures from the UN refugee centre, the UNHCR, cited by The Guardian on Tuesday (30 December).

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  • Migrants put their lives at risk when crossing the Mediterranean to the EU (Photo: Wikipedia)

"We can no longer consider summer the only season when people arrive. Now they are coming all year round," UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said. "That is more dangerous because the sea conditions are apt to change more abruptly in the colder months."

The remarks come after 2,400 people arrived on the small Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa over two days last week. The Maltese coastguard picked up another 139 migrants on Monday.

Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus are planning to discuss a joint strategy on the issue on 13 January ahead of an EU home affairs ministers meeting in Prague two days later.

The latest landings in Italy have caused political controversy, with the left-wing opposition saying Silvio Berlusconi's immigration crackdown has failed and that Libya has reneged on promises to help.

Right wing interior minister Roberto Maroni said on national radio that the migrants will be swiftly thrown out. "We need to let it be known that those who land in Lampedusa will be repatriated within a few days ...Tomorrow or maximum the day after tomorrow the first repatriation flights will begin."

The UNHCR and NGOs such as Arci have warned that any group deportations may violate asylum rights, however. In the past, most of the people trafficked to Europe have been economic migrants from Maghreb states. But a significant proportion were also fleeing conflict zones, such as Somalia and Eritrea.

Meanwhile, local authorities in Linosa have promised to shelter people in schools and churches, while flying others to an already-overcrowded holding pen in Lampedusa.

Malta recently passed a law to automatically detain illegal migrants for 18 months, while around 4,000 African settlers live in squalour in open camps on the island, the Guardian reports.

"These people come from terrible places and are running from the extremes of human behaviour - torture, rape and violence - and deep poverty. It cannot be right to treat them with contempt, detain or house them in horrible conditions in Europe," Jesuit Refugee Service activist, Father Joseph Cassar, told the paper.

Fortresseurope - a blog charting local news reports - says that since 1988 at least 9,400 people have died at sea trying to get to Europe, on top of those who actually arrive.

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