Mediterranean Cruising Update – regarding the migrant crisis

(Originally published April 1, 2019 – updated June 17, 2019) – The migrant crisis, once most prevalent in the Eastern Mediterranean, has now encompassed the Western Mediterranean Sea particularly between Morocco and Spain. European countries continue to harden their policies against refugees arriving by sea and yacht skippers should be aware of the situation when transiting near the known migrant routes.

Published 4 years ago

a boat overloaded with people - refugees
Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

By Tom Sampson

Last year the number of illegal border-crossings at Europe’s external borders fell by a quarter compared with 2017 to an estimated 150,000, the lowest level in five years. The total for 2018 was also 92% below the peak of the migratory crisis in 2015.

In 2019 to date The Refugees Operational Portal reports that 22,735 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea to Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta and 7,386 by land to Greece and Spain.

Eastern Mediterranean

Since the arrival of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), a fleet of vessels from allied nations, there has been a decline of reported migrant crossings in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, increased pressure from Turkey to stop migrants leaving Turkish shores has also seen a dramatic decrease in numbers attempting the journey.

Central Mediterranean

There was also a dramatic fall in the number of migrants taking the Central Mediterranean route to Italy. The number of detections of irregular crossings on this route plunged 80% compared to 2017 to slightly more than 23,000.

So far in 2019 2,144 refugees have arrived by sea to Italy and 15,670 to Greece.

The Central Mediterranean route saw the smallest number of irregular entries since 2012. The number of departures from Libya dropped 87% from a year ago, and those from Algeria fell by nearly a half. Departures from Tunisia stayed roughly unchanged.

Western Mediterranean

Meanwhile, the number of arrivals in Spain via the Western Mediterranean route doubled last year for the second year in a row to 57,000, making it the most active migratory route into Europe for the first time.

In 2018 almost 40 percent of all Mediterranean irregular migrants came via the Western Mediterranean route, whose irregular migration volume has more than tripled.

On the Western Mediterranean route, Morocco has become the main departure point to Europe. Most of the migrants on this route originated from sub-Saharan countries.

So far in 2019 10,465 refugees have arrived in Spain from Morocco.

The EU Position

Significantly, the European Union has condemned rescue boats picking up drowning refugees in the Mediterranean. Adopting a dramatic hardening of the bloc’s border policy.

After a summit in Brussels, EU leaders suggested that vessels should stay away from boats carrying migrants, and could be breaking the law by picking up those in distress. A position already held by the Italian Government.

As a result, EU NAVFOR MED Sophia, which started on June 22, 2015, and was formed to disrupt the business of human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean, and prevents loss of life at sea, ceased operations on July 27, 2017.

A communiqué issued by the European Council warns the vessels’ operators that they should defer to the Libyan coastguard, which, NGOs say, amounts to “deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea”.

Italy passed a law June 2019, to fine people who rescue refugees at sea. See news item here.

Advice to Yacht Skippers

If recreational vessels spot migrant boats, it is important to have a plan to avoid interaction. Migrants have been known to sink their own boats to force a rescue mission. Contact the Coast Guard to notify them of the position of any migrant boats encountered so that the appropriate action can be taken.

Related content:

Joint Statement by the European Commission and the High Representative on the occasion of World Refugee Day, 20 June 2019

Eastern Mediterranean Cruising Update – regarding the migrant crisis (May 2016)

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