With 2011 now half over, it appears that the Mediterranean refugee crisis is not as bad as the Italian government feared it would be. The year-to-date total of boat people is still under 50,000, which makes it unlikely that the numbers will reach the flood of “biblical proportions” — between 250,000 and 500,000 — originally predicted by the Italians back in February.
The situation in the Med has calmed down over the last few weeks. Although the war is still continuing in Libya, the exodus of guest workers from that country seems to be largely complete. Most of the new arrivals in Lampedusa originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and fled from Libya after the war started and eliminated many of their jobs. Somewhere between 650,000 and a million refugees were displaced in North Africa since the Arab Spring began, but most of them have not attempted the crossing to Italy.
After a week’s hiatus, the flow of refugees into Lampedusa has resumed, with four boats containing more than 1,000 culture-enrichers checking in today:
Another 4 Boatloads Land on Lampedusa, Over 1,000 Refugees
(AGI) Lampedusa — The Coastguard reports that four boats have put into Lampedusa in quick succession after several days’ respite. 1,042 migrants landed on the island between 11.30pm and 6.30am (CET), including roughly a hundred women and thirty or so children. Most of them are of Sub-Saharan origin and came from Libya.
This brings the 2011 total to somewhat more than 48,000, so the Cultural Enrichment Thermometer has had to be adjusted accordingly.
As reported previously, the “Camp of the Saints” crisis all but destroyed this year’s tourist season on Lampedusa. Now we learn that it has also done serious damage to the island’s environment. According to AKI:
Top Environment Official to Visit Lampedusa Island in Wake of Migrants and Squalor
Palermo, 5 July (AKI) — Italy’s environment minister Stefania Prestigiacomo was on Tuesday due to visit the tiny southern island of Lampedusa to oversee action to clean up the island after thousands of migrants camped there earlier this year in filthy conditions.
The native Sicilian and ally of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi visits Lampedusa during a huge drop in summer tourism. The local economy has suffered as visitors stay away after seeing months of television images of the island inundated by waves of illegal immigrants arriving aboard boats from Northern Africa where anti-government uprisings have shaken much of the region.
Prestigiacomo will be met by local Lampedusa and Sicilian officials and will pay a visit to the island’s sole migrant detention centre which has suffered from severe overcrowding. Designed to hold a maximum of 850 people, migrants have been forced to share the limited space with twice this number, or more.
In March, Italy drew international criticism when thousands of migrants were forced to camp in the open for weeks on the island in squalid, cold and unhygienic conditions, a situation that also created tensions with the island’s 5,000 inhabitants whose livelihoods depend on tourism and fishing.
After a surge of Tunisian arrivals in early 2011 following the unrest in the North African country that toppled longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power, most migrants now reaching Lampedusa and nearby islands have set sail from Libya.
Most hail from sub-Saharan Africa and are more likely to gain political asylum than Tunisians, who are considered economic migrants.
The article below is a reminder that the Mediterranean migration crisis is not solely the result of the upheaval in the Arab world. This news story doesn’t specify the origin of the passengers in the captured sailboat, but given the location of the boat and the fact that the traffickers were Ukrainian, the migrants probably originated in the Balkans, Turkey, or points further east:
89 Abandoned in Ionian Sea, 3 Pilots Stopped
(AGI) Lecce — After a very long naval-aviation operation in the Ionian Sea, in the south of Santa Maria di Leuca, naval units of the Financial Police Corps have stopped 3 motorboat pilots, probably Ukraine nationals, who were trying to escape on board a small rubber dinghy. They had abandoned 89 immigrants on a sailboat adrift at the limit of territorial waters.
That’s all the Mediterranean enrichment news for the moment, but I don’t think we’re done for good.
For previous posts about the Mediterranean refugee crisis, see The Camp of the Saints Archive.
Hat tip: C. Cantoni.