Italy and Libya have signed a migrant deal to tame the flow of refugees crossing the Mediterranean through newly opened reception centers in Chad and Niger and strengthened border controls. Both sub-Saharan African countries are important transit routes for migrants who travel to Libya and then subsequently on to Italy and the wider European Union.
Moreover, over the weekend the head of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi urged Libyan authorities to free all asylum seekers and refugees from detention centers, describing the conditions as “shocking”. Mr. Grandi also promised to increase his agency’s presence in the country but admitted that this would take time for political and security reasons.
Libya has for long been the number one destination for migrants trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. Human traffickers and smugglers have stepped up their lucrative operations accordingly amidst the chaos that has been ruling in the country since the 2011 revolution. This year, Italy registered 50,000 migrant arrivals by sea by mid-April, 97% of them from Libya. In addition to those who reached Europe, the Libyan coastguard has picked up almost 6,000 migrants attempting the crossing this year and returned them to Libya, according to the International Organization for Migrations (IOM).
The biggest group of migrants heading to Italy this year came from Nigeria where it is estimated that two million people are on the brink of famine in the country’s northeastern regions – home to the jihadist group Boko Haram. The ruthless terrorist organization started an uprising in the region in 2009, which is now spilling over to Chad and Niger.