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Political Chaos Favors Irregular Migration

The recent political turbulence in Senegal has forced many to flee the country. While searching for a better future, some opt to reach the shores of Spain via the Atlantic Ocean – possibly, one of the most perilous sea journeys for irregular migrants. To the list of nearly one thousand people that drowned in the first half of 2023, as per the Walking Borders migration advocacy group in Spain, more than twenty were added in late February when a boat capsized off the shore of Saint Louis. [1]

Yet even when migrants in distress are fortunate enough to receive help from nearby rescue vessels, their lives are still in grave danger. German charity organization SOS Humanity recently accused the Libyan coast guard of using violence against its crew members and even firing live bullets while rescuing migrants in the sea. Migrants on board of three boats were forced to evacuate them at gunpoint, with at last one migrant drowning. The vessel Humanity 1 rescued close to 80 migrants, but others were forced to board the Libyan coast guard’s vessel, thus separating some migrants from their families. In a similar incident, SOS Mediterranee argued that in March 2023 the Libyan coast guard fired warning shots while crew members of the former attempted to rescue migrants from a crowded migrant vessel. The year before, Sea Watch stated that the Libyan coast guard had threatened to shoot down its plane used for patrolling the sea for migrant boats and smugglers.

The European Union is funding the Libyan coast guard since 2015 in an effort to control the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy, with the Libyan coast guard often intercepting migrant boats in Libyan and international waters before returning them to Libya. Based on data gathered by the International Organisation for Migration, “at least 962 migrants were reported dead and 1,563 missing off Libya in 2023. Around 17,200 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya last year. Those who are intercepted and returned to Libya are held in government-run detention centers rife with abuses, including forced labour, beatings, rapes and torture — practices that amount to crimes against humanity, according to U.N.-commissioned investigators.” [2] Socio-political conditions in Libya, as well as the fact that the North African state shares common borders with six countries, allows human traffickers to smuggle migrants from all parts of the country before facilitating their trip to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Christos Kassimeris, PhD

Christos Kassimeris, PhD

Professor Christos Kassimeris heads the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at European University Cyprus and is coordinator of the BA in European Politics and Communication. Before joining European University Cyprus, he was teaching European Integration Politics and International Relations of the Mediterranean for three years at the University of Reading. He is the author of European Football in Black and White: Tackling Racism in Football (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), Greece and the American Embrace: Greek Foreign Policy Towards Turkey, the US and the Western Alliance (I.B. Tauris Academic Studies, 2009) and Football Comes Home: Symbolic Identities in European Football (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2010), editor of Anti-racism in European Football: Fair Play for All (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), The Marketing of War in the Age of Neo-Militarism (Routledge, 2011) and The Politics of Education: Challenging Multiculturalism (Routledge, 2011), and has several publications in political science journals. He is also Visiting Research Fellow at the University of De Montfort.