GENEVA - The International Organization for Migration reports a large number of Sub-Saharan Africans, mainly from Nigeria, Mali, Gambia, and Senegal has been arriving in Italy this year. The IOM says most of the migrants are coming from Libya on overcrowded rubber dinghies.
According to the report, at least 170,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey into Europe this year — eight times more than the number recorded for the first three months of 2015.
While the numbers heading for Italy from Libya pale in comparison, IOM says they are growing. It says more than 18,000 migrants and refugees have arrived, an increase of more than 8,000 compared to the same period last year. It also says 90 percent of the arrivals are from Sub-Saharan Africa. None are from Syria.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman says the migration is unusual in that most of the new arrivals do not come from states experiencing conflict or famine. He says the smuggling industry is behind the so-called middle-class migration phenomenon.
Smugglers are taking advantage of the chaotic Syrian refugee crisis in Europe to cajole African customers into undertaking the dangerous trek across the Sahara desert to Libya, he added.
“This is a really good time to go to Europe because of the distraction and because of the Libyan chaos have made many opportunities for the smuggling game," he said. "So, authorities in those countries sadly report lots of people were selling taxi cabs and livestock and small businesses to raise the couple thousand dollars to cross the Sahara and then get up to Libya. We see that traffic absolutely continuing this year.”
Millman says many migrants who survive the dangerous journey across the Sahara receive abusive treatment from the authorities when they arrive in Libya. They also become prey to nefarious, criminal elements, which VOA reported on extensively in February.
“A lot of armed individuals are shaking down Africans for money because there are no bank or money transfer system that allows them to send their earnings home, so they are carrying cash," he added. "A lot of those people end up on boats and a lot of them end up on our planes going home.”
Millman says IOM regularly repatriates migrants who feel threatened and are concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Libya.
Over the past 15 months, he said, IOM has transported nearly 1,900 people, the vast majority from Africa, to their home countries.