A surge in the number of illegal migrants attempting dangerous winter sea crossings to Europe has been driven by the increasing brutality of local authorities and people-smugglers in North Africa, according to reports.
Agence France-Presse reports that a year-on-year rise of 30 to 40 per cent in the number of migrants who have attempted to reach Italy in the first two months of 2017 can be attributed to “nightmarish conditions” in Libya.
“Libya is hell,” a migrant from Guinea-Bissau told AFP. “[The people-smugglers] treat us like goods that can be bought and sold.”
“The [smugglers] would beat us every day and hang us [upside down] with rope,” said another. “It was not easy, every day people are dying. Every day, people die.”
At the same time, a UNICEF report has exposed how Libya, where order has collapsed following a regime change intervention led by Barack Obama, David Cameron, and François Hollande, has become an epicentre of abuse. Women and children are particularly at risk, often from local militia and other loosely defined authorities.
“The increase in arrivals is probably due to living conditions in Libya becoming ever more dangerous,” admitted Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The claims come as Frontex, the controversial European Border and Coast Guard Agency, complained that NGOs operating in the Mediterranean are acting “like taxis” and “supporting the business of criminal networks and traffickers in Libya”.
Frontex has previously admitted that “all parties involved in [search-and-rescue] operations in the Central Mediterranean unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost”, including European Union (EU) and national government operations.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz recently proposed the EU establish safe, offshore processing centres for alleged refugees. This would emulate the package of Australian policies which have completely eliminated the Antipodean migrant-smuggling trade and prevented countless drownings.
However, German Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who had previously argued that Germany alone could take in “something in the order of half a million [migrants] for several years … maybe more”, has shot down the Austrian proposal.
Some British commentators, such as economist Andrew Lilico, have been calling for the establishment of “safe zones” in the Middle East and North Africa for years as an alternative to delivering migrants into the hands of people-smugglers by incentivising increasingly deadly sea crossings.
“If we had somewhere we could tow boats that we found to or take people in safer boats to that was not in the EU, that would be a better solution,” Lilico argued in 2015.
“In other conflict situations, we have often created enclaves or safe zones for refugees, protecting those zones militarily … One could imagine hiring territory from the Lebanon or Tunisia, but occupying a lawless area of Libya and some part of the Syrian coast might be a simpler alternative.”
Lilico suggested that if such enclaves were to “become more permanent that might be no bad thing as they could then [become] testing beds for Paul Romer’s Charter Cities concept.”