Sahan Africa: The perilous journey of the central Mediterranean route

Civil unrests and wars have always been a reason that drove people to seek asylum and refuge in other countries or even continents. These people tend to take dangerous routes and have to undergo perilous journeys. The infamous central Mediterranean route is chosen by a huge number of people despite its numerous perils.

Influx of people by sea to Italy:  (via ways of the western Libyan coast) based on Sahan Africa Study :

Based on the Sahan study and FRONTEX‘s data, the majority of the arrivals registered identify as Eritreans. This is chiefly due to the increase of Eritrean organized crime groups and smuggling networks via this specific route. Naval departures are mostly located in north-western Libya, basically the closest African soil to Italian territories Lampedusa and Sicily.

This was clearly stated in Sahan Africa’s study “in the coastal area that is geographically closest to Lampedusa and the Straits of Sicily. Incidents at sea, with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) among the data sources, confirm vessel tracks in this area.”

According to FRONTEX’s data 90 % set sail from Libya whereas only 6% sailed from Egyptian shores

Previously Eritreans did not even make the top three countries of migrants’ origin list .

As stated in a  2013 report published on Refworld Eritreans fleeing national service or migrating for other reasons became victims of forced labor, primarily domestic servitude, in Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Yemen, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, or other Gulf countries.” As a result Eritreans massively changed their routes and destinations to flee abuse in neighbouring countries.

The above is the ranking of “arrivals by sea to Italy” demonstrates the massive number of Eritreans reaching Italy. Most of the refugees and migrants are then distributed in several camps around Europe including in “Jungle” camp in Calais.

As reported by Sahan, Ethiopians claim to be Eritreans to be viewed are refugees rather than economic migrants. The IOM estimates that more people have died in the central Mediterranean route than the Eastern Mediterranean route which only saw 435 deaths. This was also mentioned in the Sahan study “a passenger traveling the Central Mediterranean Route would be almost 30 times more likely to die at sea than a migrant or refugee traveling the waters between Turkey and Greece.”

Matt Bryden insights about the perils of crossing Libya:

Libya used to be a work destination for several people from the horn of Africa, it was considered a safe residing place for refugees until the fall of Gaddafi’s rule when the country’s conditions started to worsen. This is when Libya turned into a stepping stone for people who want to reach Italy and Europe in general. As indicated in Sahan’s study “From 2012 until July 2014, smugglers and traffickers escalated operations as the state moved towards collapse.”

The majority of border crossings are located in far-off areas within the desert. The zone of entry to Libya is located in the tri-border region between Chad, Sudan and Egypt. The usual route goes through Kufra but due to the conflict in this location between two tribes -The Toubou and Zuwayya tribes- smugglers are now using alternative routes to reach Ajdabiya –A key transit hub in the north west of Libya.  The highest danger resides in this tri-border area because migrants can come face to face with Chadian raiding forces that are heavily armed. The smugglers charge the migrants with “an insurance” fee in case of being kidnapped by militia or other armed groups.

The deterioration of the conditions in Libya resulted in the departure of several African diplomats, leaving refugees and migrants without even the possibility of being deported back to their home countries. Smugglers and traffickers are profiting from the situation and refugees are taken as ransom and are mostly detained in “safe houses” on the northern shores of Libya in places like Ajdabiya  before then move them to their departure points.

“Safe houses” is basically euphemism for warehouses where they stock people in dreadful and appalling conditions for weeks and even months. Being detained in such places presents a whole set of risks. Several migrants interviewed by Sahan reported abuse, torture and rape by their smugglers and transporters. Change of routes is quite common to evade insecure areas and authorities. As reported by Sahan “A senior Tunisian researcher who has worked extensively in Libya reports that people are increasingly traveling to Tazerbu (in Kufra district, around 250 km to the north-west of Kufra).” This dangerous journey through the desert lasts for over a week with the risk of vehicles breaking down and leaving refugees stranded in the middle of nowhere, consequently, many refugees died from dehydration.

The central Mediterranean route is one of the most dangerous yet active routes taken by migrants and refugees seeking asylum in Europe. Libya appears to have a vital role in the course of migration of people originating from the horn of Africa. The instability of the country engendered the growth of organized crime groups of smugglers and traffickers.

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