Italy’s top law enforcement official recently said that his nation’s aggressive approach to halting migration across the Mediterranean was making progress, amid a steep drop in the number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores in the past month.
The sharp drop in the number of asylum seekers entering Italy comes as migrant advocates warn of rising dangers for those who remain in Libya or who set out into the Mediterranean for the perilous voyage. There are fewer ships rescuing migrants after several aid organizations suspended their operations in recent days, following a muscular declaration by the Libyan coast guard that it plans to expand its patrol zone beyond national waters.
If the traffic holds steady, migration pressures on Europe could significantly ease after years of mounting strain. But a calmer Europe probably means worse conditions for the asylum seekers in Libya, a war-torn society where migrants have been subjected to torture, slavery and imprisonment, critics say.
Italy’s stepped-up approach to the migrant flow came after a June ballot-box blow to the governing center-left party in local elections, when a wave of anti-migrant mayors and local councilors were swept into office around the country. Italian leaders have imposed strict rules on rescue ships, and they have also pushed the Libyan government to do more to patrol its frontiers. The pressure from the Italians has been accompanied by promises of aid to Libya. But critics say that Italian leaders are pursuing short-term electoral gain at the cost of migrants’ lives.
Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children also suspended their rescue operations after the Libyan decision. The aid groups are concerned that the Libyan coast guard might menace their ships. The coast guard has boarded and impounded rescue vessels in past years, and it has also fired warning shots at rescuers.