2017 May 12

Border Control and Migration Fatalities in the Mediterranean Sea

The tragedy of the migrant and refugee boat, reportedly carrying around 600 people, that capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Rosetta, Egypt in September 2016 was another dramatic scene to be added to the numerous and overwhelming images of migrants crammed on boats, risking their lives while crossing to Europe for the hope of a better life. Incident has followed incident, leaving behind a prominently increasing number of deaths including women and children, exacerbating human tragedies, and putting pressure on policy makers to respond to the complex challenge of irregular maritime migration. Indeed, boat migration to Europe across the Mediterranean is not a new phenomenon, yet it has been growing steadily recently and is not expected to decline in a near future due to the ongoing crises in Africa and the Middle East which are prompting outflows of migrants and refugees. Although it is not the only route for irregular migration to Europe, boat migration has recently captured more attention due to the tremendous human tragedies it involves and the complexity of addressing it. The issue of fatalities related to Mediterranean crossings has become an urgent matter and politically controversial. Information about how many have died attempting to cross the southern external borders of the European Union (EU) are rare and not accurate. Different political and institutional actors have different stakes in the answer to this question and statistics are often used to justify funding and intensification of border control (Last and Spijkerboer 2014, 85). This research paper therefore revisits the issue of border related fatalities in the Mediterranean. It addresses the following question: Is there a relation between border control policies and the fluctuation of fatalities at the Mediterranean? To answer this question, the paper examines the recent case of the increased number of fatalities in the Mediterranean in 2016 compared to the numbers in 2015 despite a notable decrease in the number of crossings from last year. The total number of fatalities in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2016 through 19 December has reached 4,901, this is 1,1124 more deaths than the total numbers of last year, whereas the number of arrivals sharply decreased to reach 358,156 migrants in 2016 through 19 December compared with 1,007,492 total arrivals in 2015 (IOM 2016a). Puzzled by these numbers, the paper addresses the following sub-research question: If boarder control policies have managed to decrease the number of migrants who arrived in Europe, why has 2016 been the deadliest year for migrants crossing the Mediterranean?

I argue in this paper —along the line with the common assumption in the literature— that there is a relation between border control policies and fatalities in the Mediterranean. Intensifying border control policies will push migrants to resort to other routes that are longer and more dangerous and hence the risk of losing their lives is higher. The hypothesis of the paper is the more border control policies or practices are introduced, the more fatalities at sea. I will test this hypothesis in relation to the Central Mediterranean case in 2016, in particular in relation to two major border control policies that were implemented in 2015 and early 2016, namely the EU-Turkey agreement and the change in search and rescue policies. It is extremely painful to view human tragedies as simply an increase or decrease in numbers; yet this paper aims at unpacking these numbers in relation to one of the main variables in whole boat migration mechanism, namely border control policies. Examining this relation should be extremely important for EU policy makers (if willing and interested) to assess border control policies particularly since the beginning of the so-called EU refugee crisis. It is also important to understand what border control policies actually do; they might stop migrants from reaching Europe but do they stop migrants from taking the leaky boats?

There is a common assumption in media reports and some of the reports of human rights organizations about a causal relationship between policies and fatality rate in the Mediterranean. This relation, however, has hardly been examined as will be indicated in the literature review section. This research paper does not claim to fill in this gap in the literature, as it is beyond its scope. The objectives of the paper are to highlight this gap and the need for such studies; and to add a modest contribution to the literature by examining the relation between fatalities and border control policies in the Central Mediterranean route in 2016.

Whole article you can find here; Mona Saleh

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