We’ve been posting special reports on the Mediterranean refugee crisis since last March, when the “Arab Spring” was hitting its peak. Our most recent report was six weeks ago, and since then only 141 illegal migrants have arrived on Italian shores.
It’s a safe bet that, barring some new cataclysm in Libya or Tunisia, the “Camp of the Saints” crisis is all but over. After adding the new arrivals, the year-to-date total now stands at just under 61,000. The Cultural Enrichment Thermometer at the top of this post will probably show the same reading from now on.
Back when the crisis began, in January and February, there were predictions — both inside and outside of Italy — that the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean could reach 250,000 to 500,000 before the year was over. The total will obviously fail to reach more than a fraction of even the lower figure before the end of the year.
Later on in this post I’ll speculate on possible reasons for the failure of the experts to predict the numbers more accurately. First, however, here’s a wrap-up of the final news stories. Only one arrival at Lampedusa has been reported since early October, a boatload of forty-four migrants that was rescued off the coast last Friday. Their country of origin was not specified:
Migrants Rescued South of Lampedusa
Group including new mother ‘picked up in Malta waters’
(ANSA) — Lampedusa, November 11 — The Italian Navy on Friday rescued a drifting dinghy with 44 North African migrants on board including a woman who had just given birth south of the stepping-stone island of Lampedusa, midway between Sicily and Africa.
The woman was helicoptered to a Sicilian hospital.
The dinghy, which was said to be “in precarious condition”, was spotted by an Italian fishing boat some 55 nautical miles south of Lampedusa, in waters where Malta has jurisdiction for international rescue operations, the Navy said.
Late last month a load of Afghans, presumably after transiting through the Balkans and Greece, arrived at Bari, on the eastern coast of the heel of the Italian boot:
Italy: Police Find 63 Illegals in Refrigerated Truck in Bari
(AGI) Bari — Sixty-three illegal immigrants, all Afghan men, crammed in a refrigerated truck. Police found them after the mooring, in Bari harbour, of ferryboat ‘Superfast’, coming from Greece. The procedure to send the immigrants straight back to Greece, on the same ferry, was immediately activated. The truck driver, an Albanian, has been arrested.
Earlier in the month an entire people-smuggling ring was busted off the coast of Greece, with thirty-four illegals who were on their way to Italy:
Greece: Network Smuggling Migrants to Italy Busted
(ANSAmed) — Athens, October 5 — A migrant-trafficking ring using boats to smuggle illegal migrants from Greece to Italy was busted by police and coast guard on Tuesday, leading to the arrest of four suspected migrant traffickers and 34 illegals in Messolonghi, western Greece. Acting on a tip-off, as ANA reports, police spotted a vessel in the region of Kryoneri that they considered a likely means for transporting migrants and started following it. At some point, they sighted four vehicles approaching the craft from the beach at Kryoneri carrying migrants, who later boarded the vessel. As soon as the boat set sail, the coast guard stepped in and set up an operation to locate it. It was sighted a short while later by coast guard vessels from Patras and Messolonghi near the island Oxia and then led ashore and searched. On board, authorities found a 25-year-old Ukrainian captain, a 24-year-old Iraqi accomplice and 44 foreign nationals. Of these, 34 were arrested for illegal entry and residence in Greece. A police investigation revealed that the 44 foreigners had been transported to Kryoneri from Athens in order to board a boat bound for Italy, each paying 2,500 euro for their passage.
But the traffic of Tunisians into France has dried up. According to ANSAmed:
France: Arrivals From Tunisia Dry Up
(ANSAmed) — Paris, October 21 — The wave of Tunisian immigrants to France after the fall of former dictator Ben Ali has “dried up”, according to the French Immigration and Integration Office (OFII) Arno Klarsfeld. The wave “has dried up. There have been about 800 voluntary repatriations to Tunisia, with OFII assistance of 300 euros,” said Klarsfeld to LCI, underscoring that at this point there is likely to be “about a thousand” Tunisians left in France.
Between February and June, France turned back over 3,600 Tunisians at its borders, either to their country of origin or Italy, a transit country after the landing on Lampedusa.
Late in September (while I was in England) there was violent incident involving Tunisian refugees in the holding center on Lampedusa. ANSAmed reported that the Tunisian media ignored the story:
Lampedusa: Tunisian Media Ignore Clashes
(ANSAmed) — Tunis, September 22 — With the exception of Le Temps, which only published a new agency piece on the second page highlighted by yellow half-tone, Tunisian media for the most ignored yesterday’s events on Lampedusa. Even newspapers that usually give a great deal of attention to issues concerning immigration from Tunisia to Italy — such as Le Quotidien — did not report on the clashes. The same can be said of online dailies, with the exception of Tunisie Numerique which put a brief piece on its homepage including a link to images of the clashes. The incidents on Lampedusa were however — paradoxically — highlighted on El Watan, the main French-language progressive daily in Algeria.
A couple of weeks later refugees occupied public squares in Milan to protest their plight:
Refugees Occupy Piazzas in Milan Protest
‘Govt has not kept its promises’, says mayor
(ANSA) — Milan, October 5 — Refugees occupied piazzas and blocked buses in a southern suburb of Milan on Wednesday to protest against their living conditions.
Refugees housed at a residence in Pieve Emanuele, south of the city, are believed to have led the revolt.
Around 400 migrants have arrived at the Ripamonti residence in Pieve Emanuele from Libya since May and the mayor of the town Rocco Pinto threatened to resign if the refugees were not transferred to other centres in the local region of Lombardy by the end of June.
Ettore Fusco, mayor of the neighbouring town of Opera, said the protest was inevitable because the government had not kept its promises. “Our country has shown itself once again to be weak and inconclusive,” Fusco said.
“Living in the area and knowing the reality in south Milan we had fully expected this revolt which is the product of abandonment and the lack of care that the central government has failed to give local authorities”.
Dozens of people were injured in clashes between migrants and residents on the southern island of Lampedusa in September.
Tension erupted on the island when migrants set fire to the migrant reception centre on the island to protest against plans for their forced repatriation.
Early this month an interpreter was attacked by culture enrichers at a holding facility near Cosenza, in the arch of the Italian boot:
Interpreter Attacked at Asylum Facility in Southern Italy
(AGI) Lamezia Terme — An interpreter working at a temporary migrant holding centre outside Cosenza, suffered an attack today. The incident took place at Lamezia Terme and led to the arrest of five — three of whom from Ghana, Nigeria and Mali.
Police carried out the arrests on charges of holding the interpreter against his will, of grievous bodily harm, attacking a public official and resisting arrest.
In October the Italians and the Greeks took Britain to task for failing to offer sufficient help to southern Europe during the crisis:
UK Failing to Share Burden of Migration Crisis, Says Southern Europe
Italy and Greece demand help from northern Europe in dealing with surge of refugees since the Arab spring
Italy and Greece have accused Britain and its northern European neighbours of not sharing the responsibility for a crisis in migration that has left them struggling to cope. During a year in which the Arab spring has accelerated migration to Europe and the economic crisis has made it harder to deal with people who arrive, Italy and Greece are seeking a suspension of the EU’s so-called Dublin system — under which Britain deports hundreds of immigrants to southern Europe — because they claim it unfairly compounds their burden.
A special Guardian investigation has discovered that some of those deported from Britain have ended up destitute on the streets of Rome. Under the Dublin rules, now facing a series of legal challenges, EU countries have the right to deport migrants back to the country in Europe in which they first arrived and were fingerprinted.
David Cameron, whose government has promised to cut UK immigration to “tens of thousands”, has backed the Dublin system. Other northern European states are reluctant to change it. But the Italian immigration minister, Sonia Viale, told the Guardian that Europe had failed to give her country enough support. “Italy has been left alone now, for more than eight months, to cope with the exceptionally large flow of migrants from North Africa to Europe. I think it is a duty of all EU member states to support the countries under a strong migration pressure. Immigration is a European issue and requires a European response.”
In Rome, the Guardian found widespread destitution among asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom were returned from other EU countries, including Britain. Refugees, some of whom had tried to burn off their fingerprints, described being locked in an impoverished limbo. Since the beginning of this year more than 60,000 migrants have landed on the Italian coastline. The Italian ministry of the interior says at least half are asylum seekers. Last week the port of Lampedusa was declared an unsafe port by Italian authorities. Officials say the number of people being returned from other EU countries is also increasing. Viale described many of those returned as vulnerable.
The Home Office points out that the UK, France and Germany all received more asylum seekers last year than Italy.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The Dublin regulation is a simple way of ensuring that the first safe country an asylum seeker reaches takes responsibility for their protection. We will not support measures to abolish this system or suspend transfers under it.”
Finally, the repatriation of Tunisian migrants from Italy has been completed. Somewhat over 3,000 enrichers were deported back to their home country, barely 5% of the total number of illegal immigrants that have arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year:
Tunisian Migrant Repatriation Program Completed
(AGI) Rome — With the repatriation of the last 50 Tunisian migrants from Palermo airport, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni’s Sept. 12 agreement with the Tunisian interior minister was completed. Following the agreement, 1,490 Tunisian illegal migrants were sent home in 30 charter flights. In all, with the application of the April 5 agreement, 3,385 Tunisians were sent home.
So why were the early predictions of the Mediterranean migration numbers so far off the mark?
The total number of “Arab Spring” refugees was even greater than 500,000 — some reports put the figure over a million. But most of them remained in Africa, crossing the border from Tunisia or Libya and taking up residence in squalid refugee camps in Algeria, Mali, Chad, Niger, Sudan and points farther south. Many of them were originally from sub-Saharan Africa, and had migrated to Libya to work in the oil fields. After things fell apart, they simply tried to make their way home.
The heaviest flow to Lampedusa was during the spring, after Col. Muammar Qaddafi deliberately unleashed a wave of refugees on Italy. According to some of the migrants, Libyan soldiers were tasked with forcing non-Libyans into the boats at gunpoint. This was not just an act of revenge against Italy for its involvement in the NATO war, but also part of a larger strategic plan to pressure Italy and France to back off from the attacks on Libya.
However, Col. Ghedafi’s plan failed. It may be that the crossing to Lampedusa was so arduous and dangerous that few of the refugees were desperate enough to attempt it voluntarily. Instead they preferred to travel south in an effort to return home.
Another possibility is that the early predictions originated with people from the aid agencies, who had good reason to issue alarmist estimates in order to drive up their funding from the EU. But that remains speculative; I don’t remember the sources of all those predictions that were flying around back in January and February.
In any case, the crisis was not as bad as originally feared. Sixty thousand refugees is bad enough — and must certainly have accelerated Italy’s economic meltdown — but not the Armageddon that was predicted.
Hat tips: C. Cantoni, Insubria, and JP.
For previous posts about the Mediterranean refugee crisis, see The Camp of the Saints Archive.