We’ve been looking at the question of North-South relations in Europe recently. One issue that often comes up in this discussion is the thorny topic of illegal immigration and solidarity. Southern European countries often complain that the burden of coping with migration flows from outside the EU (including people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean by boat) falls disproportionately upon border countries, whilst Northern European governments point out that migrants tend not to stay in the South, but rather to move on to the North in order to settle and find work.
During our liveblog of the recent “Citizens’ Dialogue” in Malta, EU Commissioner Tonio Borg argued that countries like Malta would be under even greater pressure if it weren’t for the EU:
The issue [of immigration] is not strictly linked to the European Union. Whether we belong to the European Union or not, immigrants will want to come to Malta, Sicily and Lampedusa because we are between North Africa and Europe. But the question we should ask ourselves is: is it better to be in the European Union and get some support from our neighbours? We recieved 84 million euros from the EU to support our immigration centres. If we were not in the EU, we would have to spend that money anyway, but thankfully we are in the European Union so were given funds.
However, national governments in the South have long-argued that the amounts provided by the EU to border countries are simply inadequate given the scale of the challenge. Following the Lampedusa tragedy earlier this year, in which more than 365 people died when their boat sank off the coast of Italy, the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, complained that other European countries offered only “empty talk”.
Mr Muscat added: “I don’t know how many more people need to die at sea before something gets done… As things stand we are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea.”
The infographic we have put together below shows the scale of migration flows coming into the EU through the Mediterranean region (including estimates of those coming across illegally by boat). For obvious reasons, it is difficult to provide anything more than estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants, but UNHCR and Frontex do have some data available.
Finding statistics for the number of people who have died crossing the Mediterranean by boat, however, is more difficult. Some organisations suggest the total number who have drowned since 1993 may be as high as 20,000 people. According to UNHCR, over 1,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2011, but that was a particularly deadly year (partly due to the war in Libya), with the previous high being in 2007 when 630 died or went missing.
There is also the question of what happens to people who have made the crossing and are now living in the EU illegally. When we interviewed Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, earlier this year, she responded to a question from Christoffer on precisely this topic: