Four years ago, the Mediterranean migration crisis was at its peak. People were fleeing civil war in Syria and violence, poverty, and the effects of climate change in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. In their efforts to find refuge in the countries of Europe, many were dying—including thousands who drowned attempting to make the perilous sea crossing in overcrowded vessels operated by smugglers.
Since then both the number of people trying to reach the continent and the number of deaths has declined. But that’s due in large part to the agreements that the European Union struck with countries through which migrants often cross—like Turkey, Libya, and Niger, which have effectively taken on the job of stemming the flow to Europe. In other words, the crisis has not so much ended as been outsourced, while in the process heightening the dangers and abuses to which migrants are exposed.
The EU’s arrangement with Libya stands as the most illustrative example. Since 2017, Italy has been training the Libyan Coast Guard on how to prevent migrants from attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. It has also funded the construction and maintenance of migrant-detention centers in the country. From the EU’s point of view, the arrangement has been successful: departures from Libya to Europe have declined by 87 percent.