More Dead Migrants From Libya: The Mediterranean Passage

Weary migrants from north Africa

Weary migrants from north Africa make landfall in Tunisia. Source: Boston Globe

Since the beginning of this year, over 2,000 people have lost their lives 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.

Libyan conflict

The remnants of a skirmish during the Libyan conflict, which sparked during the Arab Spring protests of 2011 and is still ongoing. This is what drives Libyans out of their homes for a better life in Europe. Source: Goran Tomasevic, AP

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 by civil war, dictators that murder their own people, and a bleak landscape that is 90 percent desert.

Abandoned shoe floating in Mediterranean
Injured woman rescued in Mediterranean sea
Migrants on Italian Coast Guard Ship in Mediterranean
Migrants loaded onto a rescue ship in the Mediterranean
More Dead Migrants From Libya: The Mediterranean Passage
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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 rake 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 $1,000-$5,000 USD) are shuffled in secret from town to town as they approach the Libyan coastline.

The Italian Coast Guard comes upon an abandoned dinghy filled with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean.

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.

Leaders of European Commission

Members of the European Commission will meet next month to discuss "relocation schemes" for the refugees that sought passage across the Mediterranean. Source: Reuters

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.

Chris Altman
Chris Altman is a freelancing writer and artist based out of Brooklyn, NY.
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