EU promises action on the Mediterranean migrant crisis
Deadly voyage

Last year, the European Union detected the biggest number of illegal border crossings since Frontex data-collection started eight years ago. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says at least 218,000 immigrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 and 3,500 of these died in the Mediterranean Sea.

In January and February 2015 the number of illegal entries in some key border points, including the central Mediterranean, the Western Balkans and the land border between Turkey and Bulgaria has reached new records and the summer season has just begun.

European initiatives have been dispersed. The lack of political will in Europe to develop a coherent and consistent immigration policy has led to the current crisis. So far, the main achievement of European border protection policies has been moving immigrants from one route to another, and in recent years, more immigrants are coming through the most dangerous routes.

The route across the Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, called Central Mediterranean route, and the route which goes through Turkey, called the Eastern Mediterranean route, were the most crowded in the past two years.

The Central Mediterranean route is following the migratory flows from North Africa to Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean Sea. In 2014, detections in the central Mediterranean area reached a staggering level. More than 170 000 immigrants arrived only to Italy, which represents the largest influx in a single country in the history of the European Union. Many migrants depart from Libya, where the absence of the rule of law rewards the proliferation of smuggling networks.

The Eastern Mediterranean route is the passage used by migrants who are crossing Turkey in order to reach the European Union through Greece, southern Bulgaria and Cyprus. Since 2008, this route has become the second hot spot immigration. The nationalities of the facilitators vary, but most of them are Syrian refugees, followed by Afghans and Somalis. In 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean route was the second largest area where illegal border crossings were detected in the European Union.

The European Union must establish a search and rescue operation on a large scale to prevent further tragedies. Last month, The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Frederica Mogherini, announced in a Special meeting of the European Council a shift in European policy in the Mediterranean area, but the focus is still on defensive measures to limit illegal migration flows.

They agreed to triple the budget of the European operations: Triton and its smaller Poseidon mission.The previous "Mare Nostrum" program was canceled last year after critics felt it created extra costs for the EU, but the problem is that Triton mission is currently not mandated to carry out search and rescue operations.

The EU-led mission is technically limited to a 30 nautical mile range along the Italian coast, although discussions on expanding its operational scope are taking place between the EU’s border agency, Frontex, which coordinates the sea missions, and Southern EU members. This means, EU is not able to carry out operations out of this area, and most of the time people need to be rescued out of this area.

In addition, the EU must set measures with countries involved in solving trafficking issues in Africa, combating the mafias and the underground economy that takes advantage of immigrants who dream of Europe. This is a multi-million-euro business for organised crime groups in Libia, which is likely to be replicated in other departure countries.

These migration trends reveal not only how important has become the problem of immigration but also the need to send a more intra-Community effective response to this challenge. The EU Members therefore must strengthen cooperation, especially in Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta, which are the most affected by this drama. And their Northern partners must agree that this is an European problem. Currently, 21 of the 28 states are contributing to Triton mission, which has only one helicopter and two aircrafts.