Richard North, 05/05/2015  

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An extraordinary thing about this weekend just past, when a record number of asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean from Libya, is the relatively modest coverage in the British press. According to Reuters, nearly 5,800 were plucked from boats off the coast of Libya and ten bodies were recovered in less than 48 hours, in what Italy's coastguard is labelling one of the biggest rescue operations of this year.

This reflects such media attention that there is, with the focus firmly on the transit route from Libya, but tucked into the Reuters' report is also news of another incident in Egypt, where three people died when a migrant boat sank while attempting to reach Greece.

Separately, the news agency reports that the Spanish police intercepted and rescued 21 migrants in a boat 16 nautical miles south of Cabo de Gata, Almeria, on the southern coast of Spain. Here, the origin is not specified, but it is far more likely to be Morocco or Algeria than Libya, which is much further down the coast, making it the third separate starting points that we know of.

This is not the first time Spain has been in the news recently. In February, nearly 100 people tried to climb the six-metre-high fence erected to prevent migrants getting into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (see picture below), while the authorities make war on migrants. It may be out of the news, but Spain remains on the front line, with Morocco still a transit country.

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Elsewhere, we see reports that the so-called Balkans route is still being fully exploited which, tied in with the reports of other migrant flows, makes the focus on Libya wholly misplaced. The issue with Libya is that this is only one many routes taking traffic, and even then it is wrong to assume that the refugee flow is entirely directed at Europe. A report in the Washington Post from two weeks ago highlights the huge numbers currently taking refuge in Kenya, and their precarious existence.

This report had the Kenyan government threatening to dismantle the world’s largest refugee camp (pictured below), setting off a panic among the nearly 350,000 Somali refugees who live there and the international aid organisations that care for them.

But if there was local panic, there should be more than a little heightened tension in Whitehall. If the Kenyans are unable to house near-on half a million refugees, the chances are that many of them will come north to Europe, joining the flow of dispossessed people who are already heading our way.

The United States is giving Kenya $45 million to help it with its crisis – but even if that area is stabilised, there is still the deteriorating situation in the Yemen, potentially adding more millions to the flow northwards. 

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But if the media isn't making any sense of it, the academics aren't getting the point either. They too are focused on Libya and the Mediterranean, not appreciating that this is just one route of many – a symptom of a far greater problem.

Not least, the academics are arguing for a "more efficient system of asylum quotas", sharing out the responsibility for housing the refugees, taking the load of the "frontier" states such as Italy, Malta, and Greece, and also to the northern countries that receive the highest number of asylum applications.

But what no one seems to be able to get to grip with is the simple fact that, as long as the EU member states are bound collectively by the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the ECHR and the Lisbon Treaty, with its Charter of Fundamental Rights, Europe is extending an open invitation to the world's dispossessed.

Dealing with Libya or going to war against "people traffickers", therefore, isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference. And strengthening the rescue effort is simply madness - blocking the easy routes as a deterrent, and then saving people who take to the sea as a result is simply not credible policy.

As long as the dispossessed are afforded a welcome, once they have cleared the increasingly dangerous obstacle course we have set them, they will keep coming - and more so if we have rescue at hand. And, as the season drags on, those in Italy will have moved on and many thousands will be camping out at Calais, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Channel.

What today is scarcely given coverage in our media, therefore, is a crisis in the making, and one which we are not even beginning to address.

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The Many, Not the Few