Fewer migrants have died in the Mediterranean this month, but pay attention to the reasons why

Deals with Libya and Egypt have the desired effect for the EU, but might put vulnerable migrants in more danger.

Even before the deal with Libya, the countries coast guard had stepped up its operation to turn boats headed to Italy back to Libya. CREDIT: AP Photo/Darko Bandic
Even before the deal with Libya, the countries coast guard had stepped up its operation to turn boats headed to Italy back to Libya. CREDIT: AP Photo/Darko Bandic

Fewer people have been dying in the Mediterranean this month and taking the perilous journey, in general, to European shores like Italy and Greece, according to the International Office of Migration (IOM). Since mid-August, the migration flow to Italy is down 42 percent and down by 47 percent to Greece. That, no doubt, is good news to European Union countries who have been ill-prepared to handle the number of asylum-seekers hoping to rebuild their lives there.

But behind the good news, there’s some bad news.

Earlier this month, the Italian parliament voted to allow naval missions to help the Libyan coast guard with policing the waters. And on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the Libyan government in Tripoli is now working with militias implicated in trafficking to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. In other words, the European Union is so desperate to keep migrants and refugees off its shores that it is willing to support militias who participate in human trafficking to stop human trafficking. Activists are also worried about the government’s policy increasing the power of militias in Libya.

According to the Associated Press, Italy has not confirmed coordinating with Libyan militia groups who have been receiving cash from the European Union, but the militia groups themselves have confirmed that they have met with Italian authorities to hammer out the deal.


The EU is additionally trying to, ostensibly, improve migrant retention centers and provide employment opportunities to them. The policy has so far been quite effective. Germany has struck a similar deal with Egypt and Tunisia, although neither of those countries is as unstable as Libya.

The IOM also reports that between August 9 and August 28, the agency, “has not received any reports of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.” Consider that in August 2015, 689 deaths were recorded. On the surface, that’s great news.

But just because people are not making it to Europe or dying at sea, it does not mean that they aren’t on the move or that they are safe where they are. For example, the U.N. estimates that 5,000 Eritreans flee their country’s authoritarian regime every month. These new deals mean that these people are trapped in the highly unstable Libya, where for years, rights groups have documented abuses against migrants and refugees.

In fact, the U.N. refugee agency issued a report in July on just how bad things are for migrants in Libya, noting that, “around half of those travelling to Libya do so believing they can find jobs there, but end up fleeing onwards to Europe to escape life-threatening insecurity, instability, difficult economic conditions plus widespread exploitation and abuse.”

The deals with Egypt and Libya might have the effect of hiding casualties on land rather than exposing them at sea, laid bare as the result of broken immigration policies.

Amnesty International issued a swift and critical response to the deal between Italy and Libya earlier this month:

Facilitating the interception and return of refugees and migrants to Libya results in their arbitrary detention in centres where they are at almost certain risk torture, rape and even of being killed, and today’s vote could make the Italian authorities complicit in these horrors…This is not the answer to the humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean – it is a recipe for more suffering.

Upon news that the German parliament was considering the deal with Egypt, Human Rights Watch also voiced concerns that the deal, “lacks human rights protections and would be with a security agency whose officers have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and most likely extrajudicial killings. As a result, it could make German officials complicit in serious human rights violations.”


Multiple crisis the Middle East, Asia and Africa — wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as violence and looming famine in multiple African countries — have triggered the largest migration crisis since World War II, causing mass internal displacement in the regions, with additional millions fleeing for Europe.