In our previous blog post ‘Border Deaths in the Mediterranean: what we can learn from the latest data?’ on Border Criminologies (March 2017) we discussed the existing data sources on Mediterranean Sea migration and provided an analysis of key patterns and trends. We found that Search and Rescue (SAR) has little or no effect on the number of arrivals, and it is rather the absence of SAR that leads to more deaths. These results, which are in line with other research, were covered by various European media outlets and also resulted in a peer reviewed publication in Sociology (also available as a free preprint).
These findings covered the period until December 2016. Since then, however, the context of European border policy has changed considerably:
- Through a mix of political pressure, financial incentives and military assistance, the EU has tried to induce transit countries in the Sahel to close their borders to Europe-bound migrants. According to European parliament president Tajani, this resulted in a 95% drop in crossings through Niger, a key transition point for migrants on the way to Libya, although it cannot be excluded that migrants are taking different, more dangerous routes in order to reach Northern African countries (either via Niger or through Algeria).
- From the beginning of 2017 onwards, the Italian government backed by the EU has increasingly cooperated with Libyan authorities to block depatures in exchange for financial and logistical support. The UN-backed government in Libya in turn, has allegedly forged deals with a number of militias.
- Increased European support for the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG), resulting in an increase in interceptions and the declaration of a Libyan SAR zone.
- Increasing legal and political attacks on NGOs engaged in SAR have culminated in Italy’s decision to declare its ports to be “closed” to NGO vessels and (temporarily) to EU rescue ships in June 2018.
Each of these developments can be seen as part of a broader strategy to close the European borders by externalizing border control to third countries, a practice that was tried earlier with Turkey, and to relax commitments enshrined in international law, such as search and rescue at sea and non refoulement. […]
Villa, M., Gruijters, R. and Steinhilper, E. (2018) Outsourcing European Border Control: Recent Trends in Departures, Deaths and Search and Rescue Activities in the Central Mediterranean.
Outsourcing European Border Control: Recent Trends in Departures, Deaths and Search and Rescue Activities in the Central Mediterranean