Italy has borne the cost of policing the migrant waterways of the Mediterranean, in order to save lives, then to allow those saved to try to find a future elsewhere in Europe. That policy no longer operates.
More than 130,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean so far this year. The Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) operation, launched by the Italian government in October 2013 after 600 refugees from Syria and Eritrea died in two shipwrecks off the Italian coast, is designed to intercept migrant boats before they hit trouble. It involves personnel, units and aircraft from the Italian navy, army, air force, carabinieri, customs, coast guard and police. Thanks to this unprecedented deployment, all migrant boats intercepted off the Libyan coast have been rescued and their passengers brought to Italian ports, in Sicily or on the mainland.
The number of migrants has dramatically increased in the last few months, and 2014 has been a record year: the 133,000 arrivals by October soared past the previous 63,000 peak of 2011, when the revolution in Tunisia and war in Libya forced many to flee. There are many reasons: instability and war in the countries of origin, as well as worsening insecurity in Libya, which has almost no functioning central government — real power is in the hands of militias. Most migrants leave from Libya, which has again become the main point of departure for Europe. They are mainly asylum seekers from Syria, Mali, northern Nigeria and Eritrea. This is radically different from the past, when economic migrants mingled with asylum seekers. The change is a clear sign that the recession in Europe is modifying migration: the European Union is far less attractive to migrants who can choose alternative destinations.