Migrants taking Niger route to Europe falls 95%
GENEVA, July 17, (AFP): The number of migrants arriving in Spain by boat is surging, the UN said Tuesday, and it has now surpassed Italy as the top destination for Mediterranean crossings.
So far this year, 50,872 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe – less than half the number that made the treacherous journey during the same period of 2017, according to the UN migration agency. But while the overall numbers have fallen dramatically, Spain has seen landings on its shores nearly triple, IOM said. “As we have predicted for several weeks now, Spain has become the most active route of African migrants and people using Africa as a stepping stone into Europe,” agency spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.
Spain “surpassed Italy this past weekend,” he said. In all, 18,061 migrants have arrived in Spain since January, compared to 6,500 during the first half of 2017, with nearly 10,000 of those arrivals registered in June alone. At the same time, arrivals in Italy total 17,827 since the beginning of the year – compared to 93,237 during the same period last year. The dramatic drop of Italian arrivals came after a controversial deal reached between Rome and the Libyan coastguard a year ago.
The numbers have fallen further since Italy’s new populist government pushed the issue to the forefront of the EU agenda last month by refusing to open the country’s ports to a number of NGO migrant rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean. Spain has opened its ports to several rescue ships run by charities which were turned away from Italy.
Meanwhile, the flow of migrants crossing through Niger in a bid to reach Europe fell by 95 percent last year, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced ahead of a visit to Niger this week. “Through financial support and a strong partnership, the European Union has helped Niger to reduce migratory flows to Libya and the EU by over 95 percent,” said Tajani, who will begin a two-day mission to the country on Tuesday.
In 2016, 330,000 people crossed Niger, primarily directed to Europe via Libya. The number fell to 18,000 in 2017 and to around 10,000 so far this year. But Tajani called for more resources to help Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, to protect its borders, manage migratory flows and guarantee security. Europe must aid the country with its economic, entrepreneurial and technological development, he said in a statement, which was issued on Friday.
He also praised Niger for “doing an excellent job” of hosting tens of thousands of migrants evacuated from Libya. “It is unacceptable that of the 1,700 vulnerable refugees evacuated in Niger from Libya, only a few dozen have been accepted by a few EU countries,” he added.
Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou has said his country will continue to act as a transit country for migrants, including those entering from neighbouring Libya, but only if they do not stay long. In related news, eight migrants, mostly children, suffocated to death trapped in a refrigerator truck carrying around 100 people in western Libya, security forces said on Monday.
Some of the 90 who survived had to be admitted to hospital for respiratory problems, according to the regional security forces in the western city of Zuwara. Six children, a woman and a young man died of suffocation, they said. It was not immediately clear how long the migrants – from Bangladesh, Pakistan as well as Arab and African countries – were left by smugglers locked up in the vehicle just east of Zuwara. “We were tipped off about a suspicious truck east of Zuwara, near the Mellitah gas complex,” Hafed Moammar, a spokesman for the security forces in Zuwara, told AFP. “We followed up on the tip and seized the refrigerator truck used to stock fish and found inside 100 migrants … (some) asphyxiated and in a serious state of fatigue,” he said. The hospital in Zuwara, a coastal town located 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Tripoli and near the Tunisian border, was placed in a state of emergency to deal with the large number of migrants admitted, it said.