Libya’s Continuing Migrant ChallengeJune 10, 2016 in Libya
An important, but often under-discussed aspect of Europe’s migrant crisis is the specific roles played by criminal organizations. In a rare development, the Italian Government announcd that an Eritrean national named Mered Medhanie was now in their custody. He had previously been detained in Sudan back in May, before being formally extradited to Italy. In contrast to the political divisions that existed for much of the crisis, the UK’s National Crime Agency and Italian prosecutors worked together closely. The BBC reported that the NCA obtained specific information about Medhanie’s presence in Sudan that made the arrest possible. Italian prosecutors have alleged that Medhanie, along with an Ethiopian accomplice, ran one of the largest human-traffic organizations transporting migrants across the Mediterranean Sea. As with many of the human traffickers, he was suspected of having a blatant disregard for safety, including packing hundreds of migrants on to unseaworthy boats. The Italian investigation, based out of the Sicilian city of Palermo, has argued that Medhanie was directly connected with the sinking of a boat off the island of Lampedusa in October 2013. At least 359 migrants died after the boat, travelling from Libya to Italy, capsized suddenly.
Though Mered Medhanie’s arrest is an important development, it does not change the larger, tragic trend in human trafficking. The Red Crescent reported on June 2 that at least 100 migrants died after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast (exact numbers differ, with 100 being the conservative estimate). Libya’s Coast Guard is largely viewed as lacking the proper resources, personnel and equipment to handle the current crisis. As bodies wash ashore on Libya’s coastline, the large number of maritime emergencies recently make it difficult to know which human remains were connected with an individual sinking. Though the Libyan Coast Guard has limited successes, such as intercepting 100 migrants on June 7, these are only a small percentage of the total. Considerable international aid has been pledged to help Libya, but assistance has been hindered by internal conflict, corruption and governance problems. Until Libya’s political fragmentation is meaningfully addressed, it is difficult to see a comprehensive strategy being successful.