Europe has been dealing with an immigration crisis for more than five years now. With migrants leaving their native countries for a variety of reasons including war, famine and human rights abuses, many have turned to human traffickers to help them get across the Mediterranean to Europe. The final destination for the intrepid many, after this perilous journey, is Italy.
Every day in Italy, hundreds of migrants make the journey from Libya to the small island of Lampedusa, in search for a better life. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 3,200 migrants lost their lives trying to reach Europe by sea last year alone. Until September 2014, Italy had a program called Mare Nostrum to help these migrants make it to Italy safely. Migrants make the voyage from the shores of Libya by paying off human trafickers, who promise the migrants a place in a dinghy which is often unsafe and overcrowded. Mare Nostrum, run by the Italian Navy, was created after the terrible 2013 shipwreck that killed 300 migrants. The Italian Navy would send ships to meet dinghies off the coast of Libya and to safely transport the migrants to Italy, minimizing the deaths and hardships that the migrants would have had to otherwise undergo. It cost about nine million Euros per month and was completely financed by the Italian government, despite pleas to the European Union by the Italian Prime Minister. Due to the high influx of immigrants and lack of funds this program soon came to an end. According to the EU, Mare Nostrum was a program that encouraged migrants to make the journey since they knew that the Italian Navy would help them.
The EU has now replaced the Mare Nostrum program with a program called Frontex Triton. This program costs about three million Euros and is completely funded by the EU. The main difference between these two programs is how they react to migrants. Mare Nostrum was intended to help the migrants while Frontex is solely concerned with protecting the European borders. The idea behind replacing Mare Nostrum with Frontex was to ebb the eurge of migrants making the journey. Frontex employs a much smaller task force and deploys mostly aircrafts to monitor the Mediterranean sea. They use cameras and radars to spot even the smallest boat, count how many people are on it, and send the information to the Frontex headquarters. They only operate in a 30 mile range off the Italian coast, rather than monitoring international waters, as did Mare Nostrum. The only time Frontex will intervene is when they spot a boat that is in distress. If the boat is not in dire need of assistance, Frontex officials will not help the migrants. However, Frontex hasn’t ebbed the flow of migrants. According to UNHCR, in January of this year around 3,528 migrants have made the journey opposed to the 2,171 migrants who made the journey last January. Since last November, over 19,500 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Migrants can no longer hope for help from the Italian state; Italy is in the middle of an economic depression, with unemployment reaching 13% and youth unemployment at 42%. There is no space for these migrants, nor are there opportunities.
Mare Nostrum was a program that capitilized on the good nature of Italians. Frontex is a program that doesn’t worry about the state of the migrants, only worrying about the security of Europe. However, this mentality is detrimental because the problem of migrants will not be solved. With Mare Nostrum, the migrants knew they would be saved if something terrible happened; with Frontex they only know that they will be saved if their boat is clearly in distress. Furthermore, having a smaller force also signifies that less lives will be saved. Frontex only has a three boats, two planes and a handful of officials to help. If there were to be another 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck, there is no doubt that Frontex would have a significantly harder time tthan Mare Nostrum would have had in saving the immigrants.
What does this mean for the continuous surge of migrants making the passage to Europe? Since Frontex has been implemented, more focus has been put on the securing of borders, leading to fewer humans lives being saved. The problems in Libya and the rest of North Africa won’t cease to exist any time soon, especially with the advance of ISIL and other militant groups in the area, meaning the waves of migrants won’t stop. Europe can hope for a future with less migrant deaths and less migrants making the trek in general, but until then, it is important to remember that these people are often times escaping life threatening situations. Sending them back or ignoring their perils at sea will do nothing but fuel resentment towards the EU in these migrants. There is no clear solution for how to help these migrants, however, ignoring their struggles in the sea is not a viable option. Italy and the EU have to create a program that will help these people. It’s no longer solely an Italian problem rather one that has morphed into an international issue that is in dire need of a solution.
Ariel Barbieri-Aghib is a freshman majoring in International Relations and Arabic.