At least 13,800 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean over the last week while they were trying to reach Italy from Libya. The figure represents an alarming increase: up until now, 4,200 people have been saved since January. The 90 operations carried out last week by Frontex, the EU’s border force, have saved more than 500 lives, although hundreds more will have perished making the dangerous sea crossing.
The figures reflect the increased activity by the people-trafficking gangs operating in Libya, which are taking advantage of the political chaos there. According to Frontex, the million or so refugees who arrived on the shores of Greece and Italy in 2015 paid between them more than €4 billion to traffickers, a significant part of which will have been channeled into drug trafficking or weapons smuggling.
The million or so refugees who arrived on the shores of Greece and Italy in 2015 paid between them more than €4 billion to traffickers
The situation in Libya is worrying. Unlike the networks operating in Turkey, which have divided their business up into different zones along the country’s coastline, in Libya there is fierce competition between the many groups operating there, which are mostly made up of local criminals and former members of the military and the militia. Frontex has extensive evidence showing that these gangs knowingly expose people to further risk. Unlike in Turkey, where traffickers often travel the relatively short 10-kilometer distance to the Greek islands, the gangs operating out of Libya pack up to 60 people aboard fragile rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats to make the 500-kilometer journey.
The events of the last week point to another long summer that will bring more human tragedy, obliging the authorities in Europe to take measures to prevent the Mediterranean from once again becoming a mass grave for people fleeing conflict and poverty.
English version by Nick Lyne.
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