By: Sam Wollenberg on
Jason Kenney, Minister of National Defence and Multiculturalism and Conservative MP for Calgary Southeast, in an interview on April 29, 2015
The political situation in Libya is not solely responsible for the migration crisis, but it is related. Libya’s porous borders, instability and poor economy have played a role in the flow of migrants.FactsCan Score: False
In April 2015, migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe again made news after a boat capsized and some 800 people drowned. After the incident, Defence Minister Jason Kenney faced a question from then-CBC host Evan Solomon about Canada’s responsibility for dealing with the crisis, given the Canadian role in the NATO-supported fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Kenney responded, “this migration is not related to political problems in Libya.” He continued that while some of the migrants taking to boats are refugees from the conflict in Syria, “these are Africans, often sub-Saharan Africans, moving North.” The United Nations estimated that by early June, over 100,000 people made the crossing to Europe in 2015. European leaders are facing international and domestic pressure to better manage the movement.
Does Libya have anything to do with the Mediterranean migration? If it is related, then Kenney’s statement is false.
What’s going on in Libya? It’s not a good situation. Since Gadhafi’s death, Libya did not become more peaceful as anticipated. Rival militias were fighting into 2015, and today the Canadian government advises no travel to the North African country bordered by the Mediterranean, warning of “sustained armed conflict, a high risk of terrorist attacks, an unpredictable political situation and a high crime rate.”
There are at least two reasons why the political situation in Libya is linked to the migration in the Mediterranean.
First, its borders are a point of departure. The capsized boat that saw 800 drown in April left from Libya, and there are many more like it. According to a Human Rights Watch report, “the principal route has long been North Africa across the central Mediterranean,” and names Libya as a transit country. In 2014, 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy alone, many through Libya. It is an ideal location geographically, at a distance of 290 miles from the Italian coast at the shortest crossing.
Source: Human Rights Watch, 2015
Migrants had left illegally from Libyan ports before, but Gadhafi had a role in ending that for a few years. After a bilateral migration agreement signed between Italy and Libya in 2009, while Gadhafi was still in power, the flow of migrants along the Central Mediterranean route stopped “almost completely,” according to the European Union border management company Frontex.
The dramatic price drop for a single voyage on the Central Mediterranean route since Gadhafi’s fall is telling of the ease of human trafficking operations in Libya. The New York Times reported the cost for a migrant’s voyage sat around $1,600 USD in the early months of 2015, down from $5,000 for the same voyage under Gadhafi.
A second reason Libya is linked to the migration is that some of Libya’s former residents are the ones doing the crossing. Before the revolution, Libya was a workplace for people in the region, and when the conflict began, workers began to leave. The same Human Rights Watch report referenced above explained, “increasing lawlessness and generalized violence have convinced many who originally traveled to Libya for work to attempt the sea crossing to the EU.”
Under Gadhafi, the economy was humming along with jobs to be found, making Libya a preferred destination for African and Middle Eastern migrants. That meant a lot of people inside its borders when the conflict began. Within a year of Gadhafi’s fall, by one estimate, 800,000 migrants in Libya exited the country.
Violence in Libya is not the sole cause of the sharp rise in migration across the Mediterranean, with the global rate of displaced persons at the highest point in decades. However, EU politicians, UN officials, and human smugglers have all made statements that link the migration to Libya. In April of this year, European leaders went so far as to suggest direct military action against Libya’s smugglers as a solution.
Claiming no relation between “political problems” in Libya and the boats crossing to Europe ignores that thousands have been able to depart from or through Libya, and that people formerly holding jobs in Libya are among the migrants. The claim is false.