Between January 2017 and March 2018, 124,711 asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean towards Europe from the north of Africa in hope of reaching refuge from political turmoil and persecution in their home countries. Of this number, 2,873 people were pronounced dead or missing according to the UNHCR. The majority of these people depart from Libya after making the long and treacherous journey north from their countries of origin, although the countries contributing the highest number of displaced people in January 2018 are Nigeria, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
The UNHCR aims to drastically improve the situation for refugees reaching Europe from Africa through political and financial support for the host and transit countries on the Mediterranean route to Europe. The strategy works under the assumption that a whole host of factors will continue to push asylum seekers across the Mediterranean, most prevalently human rights abuses and inter- and intra-state conflicts; such factors are not likely to lessen any time soon, and so attempting to more rigidly patrol state borders will be futile in states’ attempts to stem the flow of people to their territory. In fact, studies show that by reinforcing border control measures authorities simply lead to the spawning of new migration routes which most likely pose new threats to the safety of those trying to make the passage.
The route between northern Africa and Europe is one of the deadliest migration paths in the world. If refugees are able to make it across the sea without their boat capsizing and their family drowning in the tumultuous waters, they are regardless often subjected to kidnappings at the hands of gangs in exchange for ransoms, detainment in labour camps and forced prostitution (Independent). In fact, the majority of those making the journey never intended to cross the Mediterranean at all – the International Organisation Migration (IOM) conducted a survey of African asylum seekers in Libya which found that almost 60% of them originally intended to stay there (Independent). However, after experiencing first-hand the political conflicts raging in Libya, many refugees did not deem it to be much safer than the situations they were originally fleeing. Forced to choose between persecution and violence in Libya and the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to potential safety in Europe, many in Africa choose the latter.
The UNHCR’s campaign appreciates that large migratory flows can place strain on the resources of host and transit countries along the Mediterranean route, specifically if those affected are already afflicted by economic woes. As such, it calls that the countries which lie along this route need international support and investment to bolster the resources they are able to contribute to the issue. Furthermore, increased awareness of the risks associated with the crossing from Africa to Europe will hopefully generate a dialogue beneficial to the asylum seekers affected, sparking humanitarian outreach rather than protestation from European citizens against the refugee crisis.