African migrants crossing the Mediterranean now head to Spain after Italy’s blockade

Not giving up.
Not giving up.
Image: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
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Migrants looking to cross from Africa into Europe by sea are having to change tack.

With Italy’s new right-wing government focused on stopping illegal migration, migrants have began looking to Spain instead. Analysis of data from Frontex, Europe’s border and coast guard agency, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by the Pew Research Center shows, so far this year, migrant arrivals in Spain through the Western Mediterranean route have surpassed arrivals in Italy for the first time since 2009, when data was first collected.

Given that many migrants apply to local authorities in Europe for asylum, these numbers, collated by Frontex and other organizations, are “considered the best estimate for the total number of Mediterranean arrivals into Europe,” Pew Research Center says.


Historically, the Central Mediterranean route—crossing into Italy mainly from Libya—has been the most popular route for migrant crossings from Africa. Italy has seen more than 780,000 African migrant arrivals through the Mediterranean since 2009. Indeed, the 20,000 arrivals via the route this year represents the lowest total since 2012. Much of the slowdown is likely down to a stiffer stance by the new Italian government which laid a marker in June when it refused to allow MS Aquarius, a migrant rescue ship carrying 629 mostly sub-Saharan Africa migrants, dock on its shores. MS Aquarius eventually docked in Valencia, Spain.

Italy has also backed its rhetoric and tough stance against illegal migration by sea with action: the new government has handed over responsibility for sea rescue missions to Libya’s coast guard. But regardless of migrants’ preferred route, crossing the Mediterranean remains a deadly prospect with one in 18 migrants killed during crossings so far in 2018.

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