Tuesday, November 22, a 25-meter fishing boat in poor condition and carrying on board nearly 500 people embarked on a crossing of the Mediterranean towards European shores was rescued off Crete.
Coming from Libya, the boat was heading according to the Greek authorities towards the Italian coasts when the bad weather placed it in a situation of distress.
This rescue operation, unusual in this sector of the central Mediterranean, took place on the route of a recently reactivated migratory route between eastern Libya and southern Italy.
While representing a marginal share of migratory flows, departures from the shores of this region, Cyrenaica, have multiplied in recent months, provoking renewed attention from the Italian authorities.
While a larger proportion of people crossing the Mediterranean to Italy from the west of the country are from sub-Saharan Africa, migrants who take the eastern Libyan route are mainly from neighboring Egypt, as well as Bangladesh and Syria.
They are transported in fishing boats chartered by smugglers, able to face the longer crossing, and are most often rescued off Calabria and Sicily by Italian coast guards, who do not communicate on these operations.
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According to data collected by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, fifty-eight departures of boats, each capable of transporting several hundred people, have taken place this year on this axis, almost half of them since October. In mid-November, this route concentrated the majority of arrivals in Italy from Libya.
A source of income
“A new market for smugglers has emerged in eastern Libya”, summarizes Mark Micallef, director of the Observatory on North Africa and the Sahel affiliated with this research center.
The relative stability prevailing in the east of the country dominated by Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the easing of entry requirements, as well as the economic situation in which their own country finds itself, have led an increasing number of Egyptians to settle in Cyrenaica, some of them then deciding to continue their migration to Europe.
The same goes for nationals of Bangladesh who find work legally in Cyrenaica, benefiting from a certain stability that reigns there before, for some, attempting a crossing to Europe.
Some of them, as well as Syrian citizens, reach eastern Libya thanks to the direct air link linking Damascus to Benghazi, the stronghold of Haftar.