Weary migrants from north Africa make landfall in Tunisia.
while making the arduous trip from Africa to Europe. It is estimated that up to 170,000 people tried to make this journey in 2014 alone. Many travelers depart from Libya, as it boasts one of Africa’s largest exit ports for West African and MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) immigrants seeking a better life elsewhere.
Why are these people risking their lives at sea? Conditions at home–particularly in Libya–are absolutely terrible. Seated just across from Italy and separated by the Mediterranean Sea, Libya (like many African and Middle Eastern countries) has been torn apart civil war, dictators that murder their own people, , and a bleak landscape that is 90 percent desert.
Given such high demands and limited economic opportunity in the formal sector, smuggling people across these waterways has become quite a lucrative business. Some smugglers’ rings have been known to rack in over $60,000 USD per week.. The migration works like a sort of Underground Railroad— — those able to afford the “ticket” (ranging anywhere from $1000-$5000 USD) are shuffled in secret from town to town as they approach the Libyan coastline.
Some migrants make 50 to 60 attempts before successfully reaching the coast. For the smugglers, it’s simply another way to make a living, and has proven to be so profitable that some historically warring tribes now cooperate with one another in the smuggling trade. Meanwhile, migrants with nowhere else to turn will continue to attempt the 1,500-mile trip across the Mediterranean and likely die, perishing in rubber rafts and fishing boats not suited for the vast and violent sea. European countries are offering some naval support and refuge to migrants seeking asylum, but this simply isn’t enough to stem the tide of migration.
Members of the European Commission will meet next month to discuss “relocation schemes” for the refugees that sought passage across the Mediterranean.
What does this mean for the future? The European Union is discussing a relocation scheme for the displaced MENA refugees, and an “immigration schedule” is on the discussion table for next month’s meeting of the European Commission. In other words, many more people will likely die before European leaders even begin to think about what to do for them, and the International Organization for Migration estimates that this year, 30,000 will lose their lives attempting the Mediterranean passage. The speed of bureaucracy is slow, and the cost of this migration can be measured, monthly, in human lives.