Migrant Arrivals in Italy Spike in Early 2016
The number of refugees reaching Italy by sea is rising this year, with about 60 percent more arrivals through March than during the same period in 2015, says Italy's interior ministry.
The majority were rescued at sea off the coast of Libya by an international maritime task force and brought ashore in Sicily.
E.U. rules requiring deportation of unregistered migrants arriving in Greece are starting April 4, and analysts and advocates have forecast a redirection of Middle Eastern seaborne migrant flows away from Greece towards Italy instead. But the International Organization for Migration says that the spike in arrivals in Sicily is not related to the unrest in Syria nor the uncertainty over the new deportation arrangements for the Turkey-Greece route.
The IOM's data show that migrants from Middle Eastern nations form the bulk of the arrivals on Greek shores, but the migrants reaching Italy are substantially from Sub-Saharan Africa.
IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told The Independent that Middle Easterners would face a gauntlet of terrorist groups and criminal gangs to travel overland through Libya to get to the ports of departure, and are not likely to take on the long trip.
“These numbers that we are seeing going across to Italy are not people moving from Turkey,” Mr Doyle said. “The people coming through are mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa who are less informed and simply do not know or cannot avoid the dangers in Libya."
But Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that smugglers have prepared a different route for Middle East to Italy runs - directly from Turkey, via sea, for up to 5000 euros per person. The paper suggests that beginning in April, increasing numbers of underground operators will put refugees belowdecks on smaller fishing vessels or workboats for the voyage around Greece to Italian shores. The longer route would be a dangerous arrangement - but with deportations beginning for those arriving in Greece, some migrants may conclude that the longer voyage is their best hope.
The paper added that a trip is easy to arrange, with smugglers simply advertising their cell numbers on Facebook.