As Europe struggles to manage its largest migrant crisis in more than half a century, attention has focused largely upon the refugee flows from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where years of war and instability are driving the exodus. But in 2015, an estimated 154,000 migrants entered Europe via the Central Mediterranean Route – an increase of nearly 400% over the previous year, and more than 1,000% over 2012 – most of them from the Horn of Africa. By far the largest contingent of migrants – nearly 39,000 in 2015 – is from the sub-region’s second smallest country: Eritrea.
In contrast with the mass, largely uncontrolled movements of refugees from the Middle East, irregular migration from the Horn of Africa is dominated by highly integrated networks of transnational organised criminal groups. Coordinated by kingpins based chiefly in Libya and the Horn of Africa, these networks “recruit” their clients via schools, the Internet and word of mouth; they corrupt government officials to ensure seamless travel across borders; they collude with Libyan militias to secure safe passage across the desert to launching points on the southern shores of the Mediterranean; and they cast their human cargoes adrift at the limit of Libyan territorial waters in order to avoid interdiction and arrest by European security forces.
© Sahan Foundation and IGAD Security Sector Program (ISSP)