Irregular Migration in the Mediterranean:
Recommendations for U.S. Action
By:Tyler Bembenek & Caper Gooden
Irregular immigration in the Mediterranean has seen a significant increase in traffic over the past three years, with over 107,000 confirmed migrants in 2013 alone. Most migrants originate from the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa and attempt to enter the EU. Their journey is composed of three stages. First, they travel along North African transit routes to reach the Mediterranean coast. Second, migrants seek passage across the Mediterranean Sea, usually enlisting the help of smugglers. Once in European waters, the migrant vessels issue a distress signal and are rescued by European naval forces. Third, after the migrants have arrived on shore, they are held in detention camps while their asylum and immigration requests are processed. The majority of migrants set out for southern Italy, particularly the island of Lampedusa, which lies only 70 miles from the Tunisian coast. As the country in which the migrants first step foot, the Italian government must shelter these migrants while processing their asylum requests, in order to comply with the Schengen Agreement. This places a disproportionate burden on Italy to accommodate and oversee migrants. In response to the 2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck, Italy initiated Operation Mare Nostrum, a search-and-rescue effort in the Mediterranean. However, the Italian government is unhappy about having to pay for this operation, especially since the majority of irregular migrants seek to reside elsewhere in the EU. Although Rome has asked for assistance from other EU countries, these requests have largely gone unanswered. In response, Italy has threatened to allow unprocessed migrants to enter other European nations; it is suspected that this violation of the Schengen Agreement is already occurring.