A view on the Migrant crises from May 2015.

This is an academic piece I wrote in my first year of undergraduate study, in my second semester. The piece was about the ongoing migrant crises in Europe and potential interventions. Although my prediction about the main flow of migrants being from Libya was off the mark- the prediction of increased traffic over the summer months and potential interventions were generally accurate.

Although my interventions were relatively broad due to a word limit most are now being pursued. Perhaps a government minister read my paper before deciding on the policy to take!

Policy Paper (5): Addressing the on-going issue with migration across the Mediterranean, from North Africa to mainland Europe.

Executive Summary:

This paper is for the EU commission, specifically for the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Christos Stylianides, and the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship; Dimitris Avramopoulos. The EU’s current policy in the Mediterranean is failing. Frontex is an extremely under-resourced mission. Recent deaths, and the vast spike in people being rescued from the Mediterranean (6,800 alone on the weekend of 2-3rd of May, 2015) (The Independent, 2015) have highlighted this to us. The commission should seek to implement immediate policy change. The options that need to be considered are: enhancing Frontex’s capabilities on the water and extending their area of operation, and providing aid to countries producing the most migrants on the crossings. Additionally we should utilize the skills and knowledge of NGO’s on the ground to help discourage people from making the crossing. Also, we should aim to coordinate EU members’ naval resources, similarly to that of the ongoing operation off the coast of Somalia (CTF-151) to reduce and neutralize smugglers once in the water, and to aid in the rescuing of migrants. Lastly we should seek to tackle the smugglers on the African continent and to hamper their actions, so to reduce the number of crossings they are capable of. All of the above will require an unparalleled pooling of members’ resources and an international effort to help solve this crisis, countries should not seek to act individually or to exercise their own national interests or foreign policy goals, as this would be detrimental to the mission we are trying to achieve.

Initially our short term aim should be the collaboration of members’ navies to work alongside Frontex in the Mediterranean to prevent loss of life and deter smugglers. Longer term we should aim to expand our operation from a reactive one to one that highlights the root causes and attempts to tackle them, e.g. providing humanitarian aid. The reasoning behind our selected course of action is that this is the best immediate response we can look to achieve in the most cost effective way, also with the summer months now upon us smugglers will look to seize this opportunity to make as many crossings as possible. Nevertheless, in the long term we need a more rounded strategy to ease this problem before it reaches our waters.

Overview/background to the issue:

The current issue with the illegal movement of people from what’s known as Central Mediterranean route has been on the European agenda for a while now but has been on a limited scale until more recently. The current unrest in Libya, and the continuing conflict in Syria has led to a sharp increase in the number of people crossing the Mediterranean seeking refuge and asylum in the EU. Recently this has moved up our agenda due to the fact “at least 1,750 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean. A 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014 when 96 people died.” (BBC, 2015) This doesn’t take into consideration the thousands already rescued this year. This situation calls for an immediate and unprecedented response from the EU as a whole, not merely the countries this is affecting the most (Italy and Malta), the EU needs a collaborative response, as actions taken on an individual scale will not begin to resolve this matter. Figure one details the scale of the problem facing us, with the amount of illegal border crossings illustrated. This figure is projected to be considerably higher in 2015.

Review of current policy:

Current policy is extremely under-resourced, under-funded and frankly cannot fulfill its primary role as a search and rescue operation. With a budget of just “€2.9 million per month” and limited assets that include just “4 Fixed Wing Aircraft, 1 Helicopter, 4 Open Shore vessels, 1 coastal Patrol Vessel, 2 Coastal patrol boats.” (European Commission, 2015)

A statement by EU commissioner Cecilia Malmström (October 2014) says “I hope that Member States will now heed Frontex’s call for equipment and guest officers, so that Triton can be up and running soon” (EU Commission, 2015), however, her call has evidently been ignored as little equipment or personnel have been provided by reluctant member states shirking responsibility, for example just 65 personnel are available to Frontex’s mission. There needs to be a greater onus on member nations to act collaboratively and to meet their obligations, not just to the nations that are being burdened by this problem but also to the people put in harm’s way by the smugglers. Operation Triton needs to be expanded not purely in its search and rescue role but also in other areas, to help it become a preventative operation rather than reactive to crises’. A shift in emphasis is needed to prevent smugglers getting onto the water. The summer months will only exacerbate the current situation, with calmer waters and better conditions the smugglers will be intent on upping the ante, and the complete unpreparedness of Operation Triton, headed by Frontex will be revealed, unfortunately this will culminate in added loss of life, unless serious measures are implemented.

Necessity for Change:

With many EU member refusing funding, the scrapping of the Italian mission Mare Nostrum in late 2014, has proved a costly failure. The burden had become too large for the Italian Government to carry on its own. This situation is not acceptable and all members need to make a commitment towards continuing and expanding operations in the Mediterranean. Mare Nostrum was accredited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives. In its place, Operation Triton, however, “rather than replicating the Italian mission, which carried out proactive search and rescue across 27,000 square miles of sea, Triton will focus on border surveillance and operate only within 30 miles of the Italian coast. Its budget, €2.9m, is less than a third of that of its predecessor.” (The Guardian, 2014) Immediately we can see the limitations of this low cost operation. Although the Italian Navy and coastguard still patrol these waters they do not actively seek smugglers, and clearly the operation being limited to within 30 miles of the Italian coast will only increase deaths, as many of the people saved are closer to Libya. Currently there are just 12 vessels/aircraft available to Frontex to cover 970,000 square miles of water, this equates to one for every 81,000 square miles. With the situation currently being covered by news companies from all over Europe, I’m sure we, as well as the citizens of the European Union can accept this is insufficient.


Alternatives to current policy:

Firstly, we need to try and stem the flow of migrants taking this perilous journey by shifting our actions from a search and rescue oriented response to preventative measures, particularly pinpointed at North Africa. In October 2014 the UK government laid out its stance on the Mediterranean migration issue stating “The Government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who willfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.” (Parliament.uk, 2014) I agree with the stance of the UK government that first and foremost the root cause of this issue has to be tackled. Our operation cannot simply be focused on search and rescue but instead expanded into a humanitarian mission, seeking to access countries where migrants originate from, most notably: Eretria, Syria and Libya. We should advocate all OECD, EU members meet the UN goal of 0.7% of GDP to be allocated to International development. Although we recognize this is difficult in the current economic climate. Nevertheless we should press nations to donate their targets, particularly to the countries where migrants stem from. This could help ease the tidal wave of migrants currently sweeping across the Mediterranean. The UK government acting in its own manner is an issue, similarly the rest of the EU member governments having their own foreign policy agendas seriously hampers our efforts, we need a united stance to tackle the issue presenting itself to Europe.

Another cost effective way we could help tackle the issue in the country of origin is for the EU itself to allocate funding to NGO’s to help fight poverty and disease in affected areas, by allocating funds to NGO’s the EU would save money as a necessary department wouldn’t have to be sanctioned and set up, instead the NGO’s provide us with the workforce and expertise needed to try and relieve issues in problematic countries. However it is also vital to recognize that many migrants are fleeing conflict and persecution so the EU needs to target the transit points for the smugglers, mainly Libya. Money should be invested in transit nations to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants and to try and discourage them from travelling. An effective marketing campaign in transit hotspots could help this cause. Evidently this would require funding from members.

Secondly, we must aim to tackle and limit the capability of the smugglers by actively seeking and penalizing those behind the trade. The joint intelligence sharing of EU members’ police forces will be crucial to stopping those guilty of smuggling, harsh penalties will need to be implemented, and these need to be universally applied to all EU nations, which we recognize will not be easy. Targeting the smugglers in Africa will be very difficult and would require an EU equivalent to that of the FBI in the USA, we currently accept that this would not be viable- so our targeting would have to be those on the end of the operation in Europe.

Thirdly and most vitally, to prevent further loss of life it is integral to expand Frontex’s ability to respond to situations on the water. This will involve the increasing of equipment and staff to respond to vessels but also expanding its operations past the 30 mile radius currently in place. However, the responsibility cannot be Frontex’s alone, I also advocate that we encourage member nations to pledge naval ships and resources. The UK government has announced that “Britain is prepared to send HMS Bulwark, three Merlin MK 2 Helicopters and two civilian border patrol boats to deploy to the Mediterranean in light of recent tragedies.” (Gov.uk, 2015), however we need more nations to commit resources and for the response to be coordinated locally. A framework we should seek to replicate is that of the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) which has operated off of Somalia to reduce piracy, although different missions, the success and organization of their international operation should be admired and potentially mirrored by ourselves to neutralize smugglers. The International Chamber of Commerce reports that “Piracy at sea has reached its lowest levels in six years, with 264 attacks recorded worldwide in 2013, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.” (ICC, 2014) If we coordinate EU member resources on a similar level, I’m sure we’d reap comparable results.


Our initial goal should be to expand Frontex’s capabilities so we are able to enhance our search and rescue response. However, long term we need to promote and provide aid for areas that are producing the most migrants for smugglers in order to shrink the trade. Although we should look to tackle the smugglers themselves this at the moment is unrealistic as it would require vast resources and time to tackle the heads of the operation in Africa, and something many members would be opposed to. However, the coordination of naval resources similar to that of the CTF-151, is essential. The cooperation and coordination of members is something I feel is definitely achievable as we have the framework of a successful mission elsewhere in the world. Realistically, for the time being this is the most adequate response we can assemble. However, in the long term we must attempt to tackle the core issue in developing nations, instead of responding to the problem when it’s in our waters.


BBC (2015) Mediterranean migrant crisis: Thousands of migrants rescued at sea. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32573389 (Accessed: 05/05/2015).

European Commission (2015). Frontex Joint Operation ‘Triton’ – Concerted Efforts for managing migrator flows in the Central Mediterranean. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-609_en.htm (Accessed: 06/05/2015).

European Commission (2015). Statement by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on operation Triton. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-14-302_en.htm (Accessed: 06/05/2015).

Frontex (2015) Central Mediterranean Route. Available at: http://frontex.europa.eu/trends-and-routes/central-mediterranean-route/  (Accessed: 05/05/2015).

Gov.uk (2015) HMS Bulwark, three Merlin MK2 helicopters and two civilian border patrol boats will deploy in light of recent tragedies. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-confirms-military-contribution-to-the-mediterranean (Accessed: 08/05/2015).

International Chamber of Commerce (2014) Somali pirate clampdown caused drop in global piracy, IMB reveals. Available at: https://icc-ccs.org/news/904-somali-pirate-clampdown-caused-drop-in-global-piracy-imb-reveals (Accessed: 08/05/2015).

Parliament.uk (2014) Wednesday 15 October 2014: Mediterranean Sea. Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141015w0001.htm  (Accessed: 07/05/2015).

The Guardian (2014) Italy: end of ongoing sea rescue mission ‘puts thousands at risk’. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/31/italy-sea-mission-thousands-risk (Accessed: 05/05/2015).

The Independent (2015) Mediterranean migrant crisis: 6,800 rescued in single weekend including baby girl born on Italian naval vessel. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/mediterranean-migrant-crisis-6800-rescued-in-single-weekend-including-baby-girl-born-on-italian-naval-vessel-10223779.html   (Accessed: 08/05/2015).





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