The rescue of hundreds of migrants on Ezadeen and Blue Sky cargo ships in the last few days has captured media attention especially for the size of the vessels involved – no longer old fishing boats but freighters up to 100m long – and smugglers’ tactic of leaving the boat unmanned in open sea. The boats have immediately set off alarm bells as the new arrivals have been taken as evidence of a change of scale of ‘human smuggling inc’ in the Mediterranean. A part for the size of the ships and the tactics, two additional elements seem to confirm this change: firstly, the emergence of a new route from Turkey – a sign, on the one hand, that the political situation in Libya has become far to dangerous and unstable even for smugglers, on the other, that Turkey may be less keen in combatting unauthorised migration for the EU in retaliation for EU’s criticism of president Erdogan; secondly, the time of arrival. Boat migration is traditionally a seasonal phenomenon, with the summer months seeing by far more irregular crossings than the rest of the year. Since last September, data from FRONTEX show significant arrivals also in the winter months with over 11,000 since 1 November alone. While the use of larger vessels can be partly a response to weather conditions in the winter, it is also an indication of smugglers’ economic power and infrastructure, and their responsiveness to changing geopolitical conditions.
Last November Roger Zetter, Alice Bloch (but Alice couldn’t make it) and I were invited to present ‘Sans Papiers: The social and economic lives of young undocumented migrants’ (Pluto, 2014) at the Refugee Studies Centre as part of RSC seminar series this term. The podcast of the presentation is available here.