Why migrants are changing their Mediterranean route

Four times as many migrants from Africa reached Spanish shores in July 2017 compared to last year, when landings on Italian coasts dropped by 57%, according to EU Frontex figures. Anyway the total number of landings on Italian shores in the first seven months of 2017 is nearly 11.000, more than during 2016.


The current change in the route shown by migrants’ landing to Spanish coasts, is the consequence of the new regulation affecting NGOs’ role in saving lives at sea and embarking migrants offshore on ships. This change in the regulation is starting to affect migrants’ (and traffickers) routes; Italian new law imposes on NGOs a code of conduct prescribing not to act as mediator between human traffickers and local authorities interrupting the practice of embarking migrants from traffickers’ rafts onto their own boats with the goal of saving their lives.

This is what happened indeed in the ‘Juventa’ case: Italian authorities reported German NGO Jugend Rettet owned ship Juventa travelling migrants taken directly from Libyan traffickers’ boats then heading towards Sicilian shores. The humanitarian organisation allegedly held direct agreements with Libyan immigrants smugglers, while, by the law, they only could save migrants lives when in danger or sinking.

The new ‘code of conduct’ and the recent agreement with Libya are impacting routes now heading towards Spain: migrants reaching Malaga this year up until June have been 749, as many as in the 2016. Furthermore the ‘Playa de los Alemanes’ migrants landing which shocked local tourists in Spain, launched the alarm of a new trend passing through Morocco, as the central Mediterranean path once leading to Italy is now hampered by new regulations.

gent (2)

What is behind the current Italian emergency policy, is the increasingly radicalised attitude in the country towards illegal immigration from Africa, putting now government under pressure. Paolo Gentiloni’s Italian led government recently asked EU to anticipate the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to address the emergency of irregular migration from Northern Africa and in particular from Libya through which hundreds of thousands are escaping poverty, war and persecution from many other southern African countries with the hope to reach Europe.

The EU fund of 270mln euros allocated up until 2026, will also support the UNHCR’s ongoing activity in the region and the plan proposed by the Italian Interior Minister aimed at reinforcing Libyan borders, economic development of Libyan neighbouring countries operation, after the decision by Sea Eye, Msf and Save the Children to suspend search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

London, 20 Sept. 2017

Emy Muzzi