More than 10,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, the UN said, as the EU unveiled fresh plans to stem the migrant flow from Africa.
Following a rash of deadly shipwrecks that have claimed hundreds of lives, the UN refugee agency said the number of deaths at sea had risen sharply, with a record 2,814 people drowning since January.
With Europe in the grip of its worst migrant crisis since World War II, the rising death toll has prompted urgent efforts to tackle the problem.
Brussels has been seeking ways to clamp down on the Africa route after a deal with Ankara in March slashed numbers trying to cross from Turkey.
The mixed picture that migration from war-torn and economically challenged parts of the Middle East and Africa into Europe presents must be of concern to Americans as well as to Europeans.
There has been a slight shift. It was the case that the flow of migrants from war-ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen through Turkey into Europe through Greece was the primary problem. The Europeans found the magnitude of the flow hard to absorb and beginning to create understandable political resistance to refugees at home, even in prosperous Germany.
Facing that challenge, the Europeans made something of a deal with Turkey. Turkey would absorb them to some extent, prevent them from setting sail across the Aegean Sea, and even take some of them back, in return for concessions on the European Union side, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in some of the European countries. That has seemed to be working, to some degree, to stifle migration from the east.
But now there is a new assault from the south, into Europe from North Africa. This time Libya, a previous offender, and Egypt, a new origin for migrants, appears to be allowing them to leave their shores in unseaworthy dinghies and other boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea toward Greece and Italy. Boats have capsized and many hundreds have died, their bodies washing up on shores or floating to the surface.
Some of the migrants are from previous common sources, poor Africans seeking work in Europe. Others are from troubled African countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. More troubling, however, is the fact that more and more of the Mediterranean migrants are from war-torn countries to the east of Europe. These include Afghans, fleeing that country’s decades-long wars, Iraqis who are still moving away from the disruptions caused there by the Sunni-Shia conflict that has come in the wake of the American invasion in 2003, and Syrians trying to get away from that country’s long civil war.
In other words, many of the new Mediterranean-route migrants have done an end run around the attempted European-Turkish solution to the problem.
It should be clear to America, one of the major actors in the Middle Eastern wars, that the only long-run solution to the migrant problem is peace in their countries of origin. Achieving that should be a major American foreign policy objective, through the rest of the administration of President Barack Obama and into the next round.
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