Unless we take coordinated action, there will be more tragedies in the Mediterranean

There is no magic solution that will stop this flow of migrants, but there are policy interventions that can reduce irregular migration


Monday’s tragic drowning of at least 400 migrants is the latest manifestation of a situation that has persisted for at least 15 years. While there been less media coverage, there have been very few weeks since 2000 when migrants have not lost their lives trying to enter Europe. Yet there has been little coordinated and sustained inter-governmental action to minimise this flow. Until this takes place, small and large maritime catastrophes will continue.

Migrants from the Middle East, the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa have been using people smugglers to transport them across the Mediterranean since the late 1990s. Their countries of origin and the routes that they have used have changed over the years. Ten years ago, Spain was a popular destination, with over-crowded boats setting off from countries such as Senegal and Morocco, or migrants attempting to scale the fences into Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s North African enclaves.

Today migration flows have moved east, with more boats leaving Turkey, Egypt and Libya and making for Greece and Italy. But the factors that drive people to entrust their lives to people smugglers remain the same: persecution and threats to life, worklessness, and the belief that Europe offers a route out of poverty. The boat people of 2015 include many Syrians and Iraqis, but also Palestinians, Eritreans and Somalis, as well as jobless young people from countries such as Nigeria.

There is no magic solution that will stop this flow of migrants. In particular, dealing with people smuggling from Libya is challenging, given the break-down of law and order in that country. But there are policy interventions that can reduce irregular migration. These involve dealing with the causes of this migration, speedy asylum procedures and ensuring that maritime search and rescue is properly coordinated and resourced.

In response to irregular migration to Spain, its government looked at ways it could tackle some of the ‘push’ factors causing people to leave their homes. Through bilateral migration agreements, Spain offers legal migration routes for nationals of some countries who might otherwise become irregular migrants. It has been recruiting seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco through a programme allowing female married women with children to work legally for short periods of time in Spain.

This scheme was based on evidence that women with children were more likely to return to their country of origin than those who were male or childless – the Morocco programme has a 95 per cent return rate.

Spain is a member of FRONTEX, the EU’s external border force and the Spanish Navy provides vessels for FRONTEX operations. It also undertakes joint patrols with Senegalese forces, one of the outcomes of a formal agreement with Senegal on irregular migration. Additionally, in 2006 the EU provided 67 million Euros of funding to the Moroccan government to help it improve border security.

In contrast, bilateral migration agreements between Italy and Egypt and Tunisia have not focused on dealing with the root causes of irregular migration, and maritime search and rescue much less coordinated. In response to a previous tragedy, where 500 migrants drowned off Lampedusa in 2013, the Italian government, with EU support, organised operation Mare Nostrum to rescue migrants at sea. But Mare Nostrum was suspended last October and replaced with a much smaller maritime patrol organisation coordinated by FRONTEX. One of our own parliamentarians, Lady Anerlay, outlined the reasons for this decision:

“We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths. “

As the summer progresses, many more migrants will set off in boats on the journey to Europe and many more people will lose their lives. It is high time for coordinated action. While there are no easy solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, there are other situations that are more amenable to peace-building, for example, Eritrea and Palestine. There is much more that western diplomacy could do to ease the ‘push factors’ from the Palestinian territories, for example.

Asylum and humanitarian evacuation procedures for those fleeing conflicts on the edges of Europe need to be improved – it is hardly surprising that Syrians are forced to use people smugglers, when most European countries refused to accept programme refugees. (The UK has accepted 143 Syrian programme refugees. Some 11.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict).

Fair trade and aid agreements need to tackle the worklessness that also drives young people to Europe. There is a need for more legal migration routes – Spain’s recruitment of seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco is an example of a programme that works. And FRONTEX needs proper resourcing. Perhaps, the loss of so many lives may provide a wake-up call to the governments of Europe.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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43 Responses to “Unless we take coordinated action, there will be more tragedies in the Mediterranean”

  1. ForeignRedTory

    ‘Fair trade and aid agreements need to tackle the worklessness that also drives young people to Europe. ‘

    Complete and utter bollocks,indicative of the entire tone of your argument.
    GDP per capita adjusted for PPP in Subsaharan Africa in USD:
    about 3000.
    The same measure for the UK: 41,787.47
    That’s like, 14:1.

    Get over the idea that there are nice options. The people who do attempt the utterly hazardous crossing are NOT the poor and downtrodden of their own societies, but rather the upwardly mobile of their own societies. The unemployed and the cashless cannot afford to pay 300USD to a smuggler to get across the Sahara, never mind the Med.

  2. JoeDM

    Are they being sent back on the next available boat? If not, why not?

    They are illegal immigrants.

  3. Guest

    You mean except due process and the law?

    And why are you still here? Go back to Guido’s blog!

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Actually in many cases they scrape it up, or sell themselves into contract slavery to do so.

    Your argument seems to be that we have too high GDP(PPP) here, since you reject raising theirs.


    It is the death cult of Islam that is of concern to most. Hate preaching against non muslims is now the norm all over the Planet. Sadly I have to say we do not have much choice but to deny entry of Islamists into our country however military action can be taken to allow safe havens until the Islamists settle down for a few years and stop their genocide.

  6. Guest

    “Those other people hold me views”.

    You’re the one here hate preaching. Of course you’d deny people based on religion, colour, etc, as you say YOUR calls for genocide are fine – as you say, you’d send in the army to slaughter Britain’s Muslims.

    Your type of extremism is the problem, and always has been – you’re clearly a death cultist. So, when do you by your own views leave the UK?


    Are you on some sort of substance!

  8. ForeignRedTory

    ‘Your argument seems to be that we have too high GDP(PPP) here,’

    If you believe that human beings are fundamentally equal, then that is fundamentally true. The Earth cannot bear 9 BLN people have that kind of lifestyle. And global trickle-down is no more promising to alleviiate global inequality than national trickle-down can alleviate national inequality. We know how well that one worked in Britain, don’t we?

    ‘Actually in many cases they scrape it up’
    To be in the Cash Economy IS to be in the rising middle class in the 3rd World.

    The stream of migrants are first and foremost the result of global economic inequalties. Bringing up the Middle East, as the author does, is a big red herring.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    The whole idea that we must make do with far less, that our poor can’t have the basics, is something I despise.

  10. ForeignRedTory

    Our poor should have the basics. But that is no compelling reason to allow anyone else to have one single penny above the basics.

  11. Patrick Nelson

    When young people in Africa can believe that it is worth staying at home because their country is going to start moving forwards towards a situation where people are going to be both comfortable and safe then they are going to stop marching across the continent facing the reality of robbery, unwelcome rape and/or bugger and even death at the hands of fellow “human beings” before the eventual peril of crossing the Mediterranean like three men in a tub and even if they get to Europe the potential horror of detention centers. All this to reach, as often as not, the ghettos and most deprived urban areas in Europe – places from which most people, who can do, move out and away from.

    A the article says fair trade and aid can help, but the fundamental problem is Western pressure for poor countries to implement Neo-Liberalism and the demands that the IMF and World bank make of third world countries to give up the various benevolent elements of social democracy and not to return to them which have harmed millions of third world people and led to the situation where so many Africans have cast themselves adrift like pollen in the wind.

  12. Gerschwin

    And for today’s lunacy from the left I give you fruit picking visas as a cure for illegal immigration, war, famine, overpopulation, clash of civilisations, Islamic fundamentalism, AIDS, despotic government and poverty.
    Hoorah for the left!

  13. Gerschwin

    MTN has done more to alleviate poverty in the last fifteen years than any NGO, crappy social democracy programmes or state handouts in the last fifty put together. Ditto the small but steadily expanding stock exchanges of places like Lusaka or Blantyre. These countries don’t need idiot social democracy programmes (viz gravy trains) they need stock exchanges, MTN mobile investment, Standard Bank, capital development and all the goodies the Chinese happily provide without worrying about the niceties of social democracy.
    You people live in lu lu la la land.

  14. steroflex

    Do you know what? For the hundreds of billions we are using up in aid, we could easily do quite a lot to prevent the pull factors. We used, once, to have an army too and even a few decent administrators who spoke the local languages.
    But it might need us to grow a pair.
    Unfortunately they fell off some time ago and show little or no signs of growing back.
    So we can at least have a righteous moan and feel all warm and cuddly inside!

  15. steroflex

    Don’t feed the trolls!

  16. steroflex

    Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, even South Africa prove that countries can flourish quite well in today’s world.No, it is not our fault: we gave independence and they have misused it to steal and plunder their own people.

  17. ForeignRedTory

    And what truly bothers you,Leon, is not so much the prospects for the poor, but rather the prospect of a future in which you will not have any prospect of what you consider to be the reasonable expectations of owning a car, being able to eat meat every day, or go to China in an airplane rather than doing the Marco Polo thing, and walk to Peking on foot,and with those conditions applying to 99.99% of the human race, including you and me.

    No need to be ashamed of being bothered by that – it bothers me too.

  18. Patrick Nelson

    Also GDP is not a true indication of comparative wealth as most goods are more expensive in richer countries than they are in poorer ones.

  19. damon

    The opening post here is pretty thin on solutions really.
    Breaking into countries across borders is now established in people’s minds across the world.
    There will always be more people wanting to come than any visa or asylum scheme would allow.
    The knowledge of what to do to get into a country and circumvent any procedures they have to prevent illegal immigration is passed back from people who have successfully done it already.

    The thing about rescuing people fro the Mediterranean is the the more you do it, and the closer to the north African coast the rescue ships were, the more people would need rescuing just off the African coast. As they’d put to sea, and then ring in with an SOS.
    If they came in even closer, perhaps people could swim out to them. It would get that ridiculous.

    If you made it that everyone who got to Libya would then be allowed to move on to the country of their choice, a couple of million would show up there.
    10,000 got rescued since Friday. What do people propose be done with them?
    As they’re said to make the country they migrate to, richer and a better place to live, maybe Britain should offer to take them all. Maybe they could all go to Scotland, as they say they welcome asylum seekers.

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    Sure…but that’s why you use GDP(PPP)

  21. Leon Wolfeson


    No, I’m *bothered* by the people who can’t afford food and shelter. Please don’t project!

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    Then you’re creating a situation in which the poor won’t have the basics, because nobody will do business here, and there really IS no reason to strive.

  23. Guest

    No, I don’t have your issues. I just read your post.

    When are you leaving?

  24. Guest

    Don’t stop eating over this, man!

  25. Guest

    Ah yes, better to let people die, death is always your first solution.
    As you make your usual hate claims about millions.

  26. Guest

    You are. You’re making the UK a lot less attractive, as a right winger.

    And I see, you want to use the army to smash large parts of the UK now, I see, and to “get a pair” and kill anyone who tries to escape your UK.

  27. Guest

    Keep listing out the things you’re entirely happy with and support. All good for your pocket book, after all.

  28. Guest

    Oh yes, looting always helps people, not helping them.
    The poor need to be poorer in your world, blocking the poor from investment, and the rich and only the rich need consumer goods, blah blah.

    And yea, the “lu lu la la” land of the 99%. Terrible people.

  29. damon

    I’m waiting for your solutions Leon.
    I’ve said they should all go to Scotland, as they like to pretend they’re more immigrant friendly than England.

    Maybe you could give us your address and we could send a dozen of them there.

  30. Guest

    Yes, of course you’d not bother to take your fair share, after all it’s only peons like me who should pay tax. Or the Scots you also hate, right.

    I wouldn’t change the current situation on refugees. Farrage thinks it’s mostly fine too, I note.

    But no, no death there. How boring for you.

  31. Gerschwin

    Ain’t it scary when Big Bad Mr Right Wing enters your comfort zone and tells you how it is Leon?


    Where are those poor Leon? Do you know any?

  33. ForeignRedTory

    There is no compelling need to tolerate any form of strife,nor is there any limit to the power of Democracy to redistribute goods and services exactly as it sees fit. and it thus follows that there is no a priori reason to allow any form of martket economy at all.

    ‘And of course we can do something about the numbers by reducing the issues’
    WOW,you mean business stopped pre-Thatcher
    Things ike markets are expedients,not principles.

    ‘And of course we can do something about the numbers by reducing the issues’
    Or by getting the free market the hell out of Energy, Transport and Telecom.

  34. ForeignRedTory

    LOL. and when we observe your answers to those issues,they always require… drumroll please….. FREE MARKETS.

    Free Markets are inseperable from Capitalism, as they require the appropriation of Surplus Value to entities other than the State. Thus, you are just an ideological capitalist.

  35. Leon Wolfeson

    Sure, as long as you have no problems abolishing all freedoms, making the state the only employer and of course making do with less than the Soviets.

    There is a sharp difference with controls and restrictions, and renationalisation or conversion to non-profits where appropriate in critical fields and banishing the entire free market in your communism.

    Your state would not be able to allow any sort of border crossings at all, of course.

  36. Guest

    In Britain. Yes, unlike you.

  37. Guest

    No, bullies like you screaming in people’s faces on the internet are just rude and silly. You’re also, of course, unable to argue with what I typed.

  38. Gerschwin

    What do you want me to argue with Leon? You wrote no argument, just launched a personal attack on me and I can’t be bothered with arguing that kind of thing – it’s boring, it’s pointless and this is the internet so ultimately who actually cares anyhow? Seems to me it is you that has completely avoided the argument I initially put forward -that capital investment and market distribution has done more to advance economic wealth and, to use your jargon, give ‘economic empowerment’ to Africans than any aid sponsored welfare programme since independence. This has even been proven to be so and if I could be bothered, which I can’t because this is the internet and life’s too short, I would point you in the direction of that evidence. Now if you have a counter argument, if you can demonstrate that market driven investment is as the root of poverty in Africa and that what really matters is Oxfam programmes on ‘diversity awareness’ or that somehow a UN sponsored seminar on ‘inter-racial confidence building’ puts jobs and food on the table then go for it – I’m all ears.
    But something tells me you won’t for several reasons:
    1. You can’t.
    2 You don’t know the first thing about African development indeed unlikely you’ve never been there
    3. I suspect from your soft-Marxist posting elsewhere that you’re a student or very young.
    and..most importantly…
    4. I’m cleverer than you, more successful than you, richer than you, happier than you and better than you… which is why you put a lot of effort into calling me all sorts of things that could more readily be applied to you – and then running away…


  39. Guest

    So you didn’t read my post and take facts about your post as a personal attack.
    Then you admit you’re here to troll because “internet”.

    Seems to you that your argument that taking wealth from the poor has “empowered” the poor to starve harder is a good thing can’t be countered by pesky facts, right, rather than the programs which have given them i.e. food, necessitated in large part by your robbery.

    You’re making wild claims about your anti-free market capitalist delivery of poverty…and then telling me to disprove it.

    Then you scream;

    1. You, Jew, are not allowed to disprove it
    2. You, Jew, are not allowed to know anything.
    3. You, Jew, are a magical Marxist in my head
    4. You, Jew, are inferior to my amazing mind, wealth, happiness and all-round 1%er Rich White Christian Maleness.

    Then you run away. Screaming.

  40. Gerschwin

    QED – shabbat shalom!

  41. A__Skri

    It seems that France, England and the USA had their ‘coordinated action’ with their 4 month bombing campaign of Libya in 2011. The waves of Afrikr boat peoples is just one of many new problems that arose in consequence.

  42. Patrick Nelson

    Yes well known “African”!?! countries such as (highly developed) Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia! The poor of the well known “African”!?! country India have suffered greatly though the effects of Neoliberalism as have the poor of the actually African country of South Africa.

    The ones who have robbed and plundered their own people were generally the ones that we ourselves nurtured and left in charge to maintain Western interests in these places. The interests of the IMF and World Bank are not in the best interests of third world people. Whilst the imposition of Neoliberalism has seen the widespread destruction of local communities and ways of like. As David Harvey has explained Neo-Liberalism has caused…

    “the commodification and privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations (compare the cases, described above, of Mexico and of China, where 70 million peasants are thought to have been displaced in recent times)

    …conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights (most spectacularly represented
    by China)

    …(the) commodification of labour power and the suppression of
    alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption

    …colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets
    (including natural resources)

    …the slave trade (which continues particularly in the sex industry)…and usury, the national debt

    …and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of accumulation by dispossession.”

  43. steroflex

    My point is this: at independence all those years ago, the British Empire was a single entity. We gave independence to all those places, some in Africa, others not. Singapore was far poorer than Kenya or Ghana. Nigeria was huge and beautifully run too. They all had equality of opportunity.
    Now they are widely different.
    Stop beating us up: I was there for the end of Empire in Africa as a very young man. It worked. It was safe. It was relatively rich. People were happy. In no way was it racist: it was based, like today’s society, on class.

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