Mediterranean countries are joining their forces to intensify their cooperation to combat illegal migration and migrants’ smuggling and human trafficking networks – a thriving business that is undermining peace and stability in North Africa. The interior ministers of the Mediterranean countries met in Tunis yesterday (26 July) to discuss the issue of migration and emphasize the importance of addressing the roots of illegal migration and initiate a human approach in migration management.
The leaders also developed a plan to regularize the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe and to deport illegal migrants from Italy on top of fighting smuggling. Their plan that got a full support of the UNHCR aims to set up screening systems for migrants heading for Europe in the most frequent countries of origin such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan. The European Union has allocated funding for 40,000 regularized refugees with as many as half coming from Syria and the rest from African countries.
Italy is especially keen on moving forward with this issue as more than 90,000 migrants have arrived on its shores since January. UNHCR’s newly appointed special envoy to the Central Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel commented that “we need to regularize the system and stop these dangerous journeys into Libya. Italy also needs to be able to process claimants so the economic migrants are returned much more quickly, or else there will be no deterrent to travel to Italy. Only a third of the migrants reaching Italy are found to be in need of international protection.”
It is estimated that about 300,000 Africans are trying to reach Libya, in an attempt to ultimately get to Europe or to get some work in Libya. They are living in Libyan detention centers or alternatively in so-called “connection houses” handled by traffickers. The number of people arriving in Europe from Africa through Libya is rising and, with it, the risks they face while crossing the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Between January and June this year, 2,171 refugees and migrants died or went missing while many others are thought to have died trying to get to Libya.