The first weekend of Europe’s new migrant rescue plan saw a near-record number of rescues in the Mediterranean Sea—but also a surge in attempted crossings, a development which is sure to fuel continued debate over the EU’s evolving response to the immigration crisis. The Financial Times reports:
Italian coastguard and navy ships led the rescue of more than 6,550 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea at the weekend, in a sign that the surge of refugees fleeing via Libya for a better life on European shores has accelerated.
On Saturday, Italian coastguard officials say 3,790 people were saved from 17 separate boats in distress, marking one of the largest single-day tallies of rescued refugees. An additional 2,861 were estimated to have been rescued on Sunday, officials said.
Events such as these will likely confirm the fears of those who suspect that Mediterranean rescue efforts will likely increase, rather than ameliorate, the migrant problem by providing a significant ‘pull’ factor: come this way, and a Western navy or charity will rescue you and take you to dry land. (And recall that under European law, it’s very difficult to repatriate someone claiming to be a refugee.)
There are other factors at work, to be sure: the warmer weather for one is supposed to have made making the voyage far more palatable (which bodes ill for the months ahead). And the conditions in Somalia and Libya are so miserable that it’s hard to imagine what risks one wouldn’t take to get out.
Thousands of lives were saved, and any way you cut it, that is an improvement over the old policy (which really was no policy at all). But given the complexity of the problem—the complex incentives for the migrants, the difficulty many European societies have with assimilating newcomers both culturally and economically—the Europeans are far from out of the woods on this issue.