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Keeping an eye on migration flows in the Mediterranean

Migration flows in the Mediterranean are nothing new

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

Migration flows in the Mediterranean are nothing new. According to the official data, an average of almost 40,000 people (on the basis of monitoring between 1998-2013) cross the Mediterranean sea per year to reach its northern shores. It’s a drop in the sea if we were to compare this figure to the numbers of immigrants admitted to the EU every year, that is reportedly over 1.5 million persons.

South to North migration in the Mediterranean is a given reality preconditioned by the differences in the development between the two shores of the Mediterranean, and by the challenges and problems in the southern part as well. In other words, by the issues plaguing Africa and the Middle East. Running from extreme poverty, low levels of living quality, and conflicts, the issues are forcing people to seek a better life in the developed Western world, notably in Europe.

Even having their demand of asylum approved, immigrants’ prospects are far from optimistic

Maria Dubovikova

However, dreams about the European paradise soon crumble as the migration flows are more intensive than the capabilities of the receiving side and the final destination is far from paradise itself. The problem resides also in the historical insufficiency and inadequacy of the measures in the majority of the receiving countries to effectively integrate the newcomers into society. It is the aggregate disillusionment of newcomers and the limited migration policy that creates a delayed-action bomb in Western societies.

A major problem

The Mediterranean Sea represents a major problem in terms of immigration, especially taking into consideration the recent trend of the last years of its transformation into a grave for thousands of people. The migration flow to Europe is unstoppable. And what is more, it is rising, notably due to the ongoing crisis in Syria and Iraq and to the Libyan collapse. Everyday, European ships rescue almost an average of a thousand people in the sea. Thus Qaddafi’s gloomy prophecy that the Mediterranean “will become a sea of chaos” comes true.

The greatest burden lays on Italy, as its shores are the nearest northern point in the Mediterranean for the migrants from the South, and impoverished Greece. The problem is that the EU still has no adequate system, which would distribute such a burden between the countries. Matteo Renzi has fairly said that “the Mediterranean migrant emergency is not Italy’s. It’s Europe’s.” But the truth goes farther, as the Mediterranean migrant emergency is global. But the European countries are definitely the first ones to face the true problems and challenges.

Migrants pose a huge social and economic threat. Italy, the economy of which seems to have survived the hard times, spends $12 million a month on the noble Operation Mare Nostrum searching and rescuing the asylum seekers in the waters of the Mediterranean. Poor devastated Greece, for example, spent €63 million to prevent illegal immigration in 2013 (and only €3million came from European border agencies). Feeding tens of thousands of hungry people is hard. And the money spent, which is sadly still insufficient, is the money of taxpayers who are already suffering a lot from the tough austerity measures.

Easy target

Furthermore, Even having their demand of asylum approved, immigrants’ prospects are far from optimistic and they are becoming an easy target for ineradicable radical Islamist preachers.

To send these refugees back to the countries of their origin is also a matter of spending the money of taxpayers and spending them totally in vain, as the reason that pushed immigrants to leave their homes will not have suddenly stopped.

Then there is an extreme danger, which transforms the current migration crisis to the global threat, that ISIS terrorists sneak into Europe disguised as migrants. This February, ISIS threatened to send 500000 migrants to Europe as a psychological weapon. Several months have passed and this supposed weapon could be nicely debugged and updated. For sure, most of these people will reach Europe not by sea (and this brings another dimension to the problem deepening the matter and concerns it causes), but the Mediterranean is still an integral part of this puzzle. And thus the illegal migration transforms into an almost global terrorist threat with unpredictable and not manageable consequences both regionally and globally.

The international community should be ready to accept the fact that the immigration flows cannot be stopped, especially when the situation in the South does not get any better and is not expected to. In order to settle the current migration collapse the countries should think urgently over their internal migration and accommodation policy. But first of all the uncontrolled flow of the migrants through the aforementioned countries, especially through the Libyan territory, should be stopped or at least limited. For this, the constant ship cordon and patrol along those countries’ borders would be enough to prevent the boats stuffed with migrants from crossing the lines. The common efforts of the EU countries and of the North African states or even of the whole international community would be mostly welcomed in sharing the burden of being on watch. The future of the world’s migration flows depends on regulation.

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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.