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Men stand at the deck of a rescue vessel after being rescued by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms workers in the Mediterranean Sea, June 16, 2017.
Emilio Morenatti/AP
Citizenship

Why the Fall in Migrants Arriving to Italy by Sea in 2017 Isn't All Good News

The number of migrants arriving to Italy by sea fell by a third in 2017 compared to the year before, according to an announcement made by the Interior Ministry.

But, while that sounds like it should be a positive change, human rights campaigners have expressed concern about how the change has been brought about. 

More than 119,000 people came to Italy by boat in 2017, according to Reuters , down from the record 181,000 people who made the hazardous crossing in 2016.

Take action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People — No Matter Where They Were Born

The second half of the year saw the most significant reduction, with new arrivals falling by more than two thirds in 2017 when compared to 2016. 

Deaths at sea have also declined as well, according to the International Organisation for Migration, to 2,833 in 2017. That’s a 38% decrease from the 4,581 people who died making the crossing in 2016. 

“We were able to govern the flow because we were the first to believe that an agreement with Libya was a turning point,” said Interior Minister Marco Minniti in an interview with Corriere della Sera, about how Italy made the change. 

Read more: People Are Taking to the Streets in Paris After Report Shows Migrant Slave Auctions in Libya

Italy signed the EU-backed agreement with Libya in February 2017, which said that Italy would provide aid, equipment, and training, in return for Libya’s help in tackling people smuggling. 

As a result, reported Reuters , the Tripoli government supports armed groups to stop smugglers in the western coastal city of Sabratha sending out boats. Italy has also strengthened the Libyan coastguard’s ability to turn back boats.

However, the policy has drawn criticism from humanitarian organisations, who claim it traps migrants in Libya and leaves them vulnerable to forced labour, rape, torture, and kidnapping. 

Footage released by CNN in November sparked protests across Europe and Africa, after it appeared to show African migrants being auctioned off as slaves. 

Read more: Libyan Slave Traders May Be Committing Crimes Against Humanity

The treatment of those shown in the video was described by the United Nations Security Council as “heinous abuses of human rights which may also amount to crimes against humanity.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatised people from reaching Europe’s shores,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, in a statement .

According to the CNN report, human trafficking has been exacerbated by a “clampdown” by the Libyan coastguard on boats — leaving smugglers with a backlog of desperate, impoverished migrants. United Nations Security Council

Read more: 26 Teenage Girls Were Found Dead in the Mediterranean Sea Prompting Investigation

Meanwhile, many of the migrants who are prevented from making the crossing from Libya to Italy are instead being held in detention centres in Libya — which have been condemned as “inhumane” by rights groups. 

Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the BBC the number of migrants in the detention centres it has access to in Libya has increased tenfold since July, when the policies really began. 

Some 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat in the past 4 years. But more than 20,000 are believed to have died trying to making the crossing, according to the International Organisation for Migration, making it the deadliest border for migrants in the world. 

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