The Mediterranean Refugee Crisis effectively ended in October, after the overthrow of Col. Muammar Qaddafi and his subsequent murder. However, the boat people from North Africa continued to trickle in for the rest of the year. Since our last report in mid-November, 385 more migrants landed in Italy (or tried to), bringing the total for the year to somewhat over 61,000, and nudging the Cultural Enrichment Thermometer up one final pixel.
The crisis began a year ago, after the demonstrations and revolution in Tunisia. By February, refugee agencies in Italy were warning that 250,000 to 500,000 refugees from the “Arab Spring” might inundate Europe before the end on the year. The flow of migrants accelerated throughout the spring and into the summer, but never reached the extreme levels that had been predicted.
In my previous post I discussed the possible reasons why the migration tsunami ended up being less than apocalyptic. In this post I’ll just review the final stories on the topic from 2011, and then declare the “Camp of the Saints” officially closed.
Below is a reminder that Italy is not the only country bearing the brunt of the immigration flow into Southern Europe. Greece is in the midst of a severe financial crisis, and coping with refugees and asylum seekers taxes its resources to the limit.
Most of the migration into Greece comes from the east, through Turkey. From ANSAmed, November 17:
Greece: Frontex Critic as Migrant Influx Peaks
(ANSAmed) — Athens, November 17 — Even as the repercussions of the debt crisis make the prospects of a new life in Greece less than rosy, the influx of undocumented immigrants into the country has increased significantly over the past year, according to figures released on Wednesday by the European Union’s border monitoring agency, Frontex. However, a top agency official has told daily Kathimerini that Greece woefully lacks the infrastructure to accommodate the would-be migrants.
Detentions at the Greek-Turkish land border increased by 20% in October compared to the same month last year, according to Frontex, which referred to “an absolute monthly record of 9,600 illegal border crossings.” “Average detections were over 300 irregular migrants crossing that border on a daily basis,” a statement issued by the agency said.
The agency attributed the “dramatic development” to a combination of factors. These include the absence of sufficient detention facilities both in Greece and Turkey, and the lack of adequate agreements for the readmission of immigrants from specific countries of origin. Frontex’s deputy executive director Gil Arias Fernandez told Kathimerini that most of the 26 countries contributing staff and equipment to the agency’s operation at the Greek-Turkish border were increasingly reluctant to continue, largely due to the failure of Greek authorities to create new reception centers for migrants, particularly in Evros, a key main gateway for immigrants to cross into Greece from Turkey. Most of the current reception centers in Greece are “unacceptable,” according to Fernandez, who also criticized authorities for refusing to cooperate with nongovernmental organizations.
Additional contributing factors cited by Frontex appear to apportion a fair burden of the blame to Turkish authorities — the proximity of Istanbul airport (with low-cost connecting flights), Turkey’s liberal visa policy and the “numerous facilitation networks established in Turkey with links to Greece,” an apparent reference to cross-border smuggling rings.
From November 19 — 162 Egyptians landed in Bari:
A Boat Carrying 162 Immigrants Sailed Into Bari Last Night
(AGI) Bari — A 30 m fishing boat carrying 162 presumably Egyptian immigrants docked in the port of Bari during the night. The immigrants are being subjected to identification procedures. More specifically, the migrants are all presumed to be Egyptian, except for a few Somalis, and are all men, roughly 30 of which are minors. The boat was detected around 8 pm last night in international waters, at 15 miles north of the Port of Bari, and was rescued by the motorboats of the Italian Coast Guard and of the Guardia di Finanza.
And on November 26, sixty more were wrecked off the coast of Apulia. Not all of them made it to shore alive:
Boat Carrying Illegal Immigrants Capsizes Off Apulia Coast
(AGI) Rome — A sailboat carrying around 60 illegal immigrants floundered near Carovigno, 10 km from Brindisi, causing various deaths. An inhabitant of Carovigno alerted local port authorities when at 5.35 PM he heard shouts coming from the sea and found the capsized craft and numerous people in the water.
Rescue operations ensued but were hindered by rough conditions reaching force 5. According to the first reports 3 bodies have already been recovered.
A follow-up report on the same story from the next day:
Italy: Searches Continue After Migrant Boat Sinks, Killing Three
Around 30 people missing
(ANSA) — Rome, November 28 — Italian rescue teams continued to scour the area off the coast near Brindisi where they saved 43 people and found three others dead Sunday after a migrant boat sank.
Around 30 migrants are believed missing, the authorities said, although they may have managed to get safely to dry land and then fled to avoid the risk of being deported to their countries of origin.
The survivors are all young men or boys without documents who apparently come from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
Thousands of migrants have been killed this year trying to cross the Mediterranean from turmoil-hit Africa to Italy in overloaded, unsafe boats.
A couple of days later a batch of migrants was intercepted trying to make it from Greece to Italy.
Illegal Immigration: Greece: Ship Heading to Italy Stopped
Carrying 84 illegal immigrants
(ANSAmed) — Athens, November 29 — The Greek Coastal Guard has located a sailing ship off the Echinades islands in the Ionian Sea. The ship was carrying an American flag and, journalists report, was headed for Italy, carrying 84 illegal immigrants. The ship was accompanied to the port of Astakos and three members of its crew were arrested.
The article below appeared on December 1, but it concerned events that had occurred back in August. It details one of the more gruesome stories of the refugee crisis — a murder case against a group of African refugees who sacrificed fifteen of their fellows to the sea gods in a bid to ensure safe passage across the Mediterranean:
‘We Threw Immigrants Out to Sea to Appease the Gods’
(AGI) Agrigento — First a full-fledged ethnic warfare was waged on the boat, with Central Africans fighting Maghreb migrants.
At that point, the latter were overwhelmed triggering hell on board of the boat that sailed out of Libya and reached Lampedusa carrying 367 immigrants. The Central Africans in fact killed at least fifteen North Africans and threw their bodies out to sea even if, when they were abandoned in the Strait of Sicily, they were still alive. Investigations later found that many of them were killed in the conviction of appeasing the wrath of God after a rather difficult journey which was exacerbated with an engine breakdown which sent the boat adrift. In order to track the five people who were later arrested during the night, all of who had a resident permit after having sought and obtained political asylum, the police interrogated at least one hundred of the refugees who landed on Lampedusa on the 4th of August.
After cross-checking testimonies and stories, the Agrigento-based Police Flying Squad, in collaboration with their colleagues from Cosenza, Enna and Salerno, arrested 3 Ghanians, 37-year old Faisal Igala, 28-year old Mohamed Adama and 44-year old Kujo Ahmokugo and two Nigerians, 38-year old Emeka Ohalete and 35-year old Douglass Ounchukwu. The arrest warrants were issued by the Deputy Public Prosecutor of Agrigento, Ignazio Fonzo and by Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Bianchi. They are all heavily suspected of multiple charges of murder aggravated by futile reasons and by the circumstances of time and place. The witnesses told investigators a veritable horror story. The conflict started out with ethnic clashes between Central and North Africans, followed by the engine breakdown and lastly by a battle on the boat deck in which the Central Africans prevailed. Some more migrants died of asphyxia after being crammed in the hold and their bodies were later thrown out to sea. The five persons arrested were being hosted for humanitarian reasons in reception centers, 2 in Palinuro, in the province of Salerno, one in Cosenza and the remaining 2 in a hotel in Enna.
In an ironic afterthought to the previous story, this story from December 5 reports that a group of Tunisian asylum-seekers in Switzerland is having PR problems. Now, I wonder why that might be…?
Tunisian Asylum Seekers Face Image Problem
Newly arrived Tunisian asylum seekers have been dubbed criminals in recent press reports and described as “the worst we have had to deal with” by asylum centre staff.
But has this group of Tunisians really earned a reputation as troublemakers and if so, what is going wrong?
Unofficial police statistics from Zurich, published this week in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, backed up the alarming headline: “Number of criminal North Africans set to double by the end of the year”.
Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said her ministry was taking the problem of security very seriously and that the processing of Tunisian asylum requests had been given “top priority”.
The minister has also discussed the problem of Tunisia’s image with the Tunisian ambassador.
The majority of the more than 2,000 Tunisians applying for asylum in Switzerland this year have come through Italy, out of a total of 24,500 Tunisian nationals who landed on the island of Lampedusa in the first half of the year.
According to the Federal Migration Office’s third quarter report on asylum statistics, about half of this total were given a limited-term Italian residence permit on humanitarian grounds.
“As very few of these Tunisians have found work in Italy, onward migration has taken place, to France and also to Switzerland,” the report said.
The following day, 40 refugees were rescued off the coast of Malta, and the new Libyan government intercepted 400 more before they could cross over to Europe:
Malta Rescues Migrants From Dinghy After SOS
Libyan authorities intercept boat with 400 refugees
(ANSAmed) — Valletta (Malta) — Last night the Maltese navy rescued 40 Somalis from a rubber dinghy that was taking on water. The migrants had sent an SOS from a satellite phone. They said that they had left on Saturday from a port near Tripoli. The Libyan authorities have confirmed that they have intercepted a boat with 400 refugees from several sub-Saharan countries on board: refugees from Somalia, Ghana, Eritrea and Nigeria. The barge was intercepted by three patrol boats in Libyan waters.
Last Tuesday, seventeen more illegals bound for Italy were detained in Greece:
Rescue, Arrests of Italy-Bound Illegals in Greece
(ANSAmed) — Athens, December 27 — Seventeen people, identified as would-be illegal migrants and an alleged migrant smuggler, were rescued from a stalled speedboat off the isle of Erikoussa, north of the Ionian island of Corfu, on Saturday by the coast guard, as reported by ANA news agency. Authorities were notified that the vessel was drifting in the sea region, with a patrol boat dispatched to the scene. The boat had been reported stolen from a Corfu marina. The alleged migrant smuggler was arrested and will be led before a local prosecutor, while the illegals were transferred to a border patrol unit.
Further south at the western port of Patras, a total of three non-EU nationals were arrested during attempts to board Italy-bound ferry boats with forged travel documents. In one instance, the 62-year-old driver of a truck and his 62-year-old companion were also arrested for stowing away one of the migrant inside the tractor trailer. Finally, in the extreme northwest port of Igoumenitsa, one foreign national was arrested along with the driver and co-driver of an Italy-bound lorry early Sunday morning, after authorities discovered that the former possessed and displayed forged travel documents with the purpose of illegally exiting Greece and entering Italy.
Finally, from last Friday — a boatload of migrants was intercepted when they landed in Puglia:
Afghan, Iraqi Migrants Stopped in Puglia
32 ‘still wet from the sea’
(ANSA) — Lecce, December 30 — A group of Afghan and Iraqi migrants were stopped Friday soon after disembarking from a boat on the coast of Puglia.
The 32 migrants, who had split up into smaller groups, were “still wet from wading ashore”, police said.
All males including some minors, they were said to be in good health.
They were taken to a migrant reception centre near Otranto.
Barring some new version of the “Arab Spring”, that’s it for the Mediterranean refugee crisis.
For previous posts about the Mediterranean refugee crisis, see The Camp of the Saints Archive.
Hat tips: C. Cantoni, Insubria, and Steen.