Multiple factors responsible for increase in Mediterranean migrants

A Europe-bound boat carrying up to 150 migrants sank off the Syrian coast, leaving 102 dead and 40 missing. United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the incident as a “heart-wrenching tragedy.”

A renewed increase in migrants crossing the Mediterranean has been observed since 2021. Analysts said the U.S. hegemony is the root cause of the immigration issue in the Middle East and North Africa, and it continuously aggravates poverty and turmoil in the region, forcing more people to make the dangerous sea journey toward Europe.


At the port of La Goulette in northern Tunisia, 38-year-old Karim is preparing for his second sea crossing. A year ago, he was arrested by the Tunisian Maritime Guard when sailing with a group of migrants toward Italy.

“I paid the human smuggler 4,000 Tunisian dinars (around 1,237 U.S. dollars) in my first attempt. Now I have to save money for the second try,” the Tunisian man, who did not give his full name, said.

“People are forced to leave their homes due to the worsening economy and rising unemployment in Tunisia,” said Karim, who has a degree in history and used to work in a call center in the capital Tunis.

Since 2010, Tunisia and many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa have gone through a series of social upheavals in the so-called “Arab Spring,” which has led to the breakdown of the political and social order, the destruction of national unity, and the immigration tide toward Europe.

The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean slumped after Europe started to tighten border controls in 2015. However, it has risen again since 2021.

The UN reported that the number of migrants intercepted by Libya’s coast guard while attempting to cross the Mediterranean almost tripled in 2021 compared to the year before.

Migrant interceptions in the first half of 2022 by both Tunisian and Italian security forces were “well above the levels recorded during the same period in 2021,” showed a recent report published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.


Experts believe that economic woes in the region triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis are forcing more people to embark on unsettling and terrifying sea journeys. At a deeper level, years of heavy-handed U.S. intervention and the spillover of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s (Fed) monetary policy are mainly to blame.

For instance, the United States was deeply involved in the Libyan War and the Syrian War, creating direct, serious and lasting damage to local people’s right to life and survival.

In 2011, the Syrian civil war broke out. The United States and its Western allies strongly backed opposition armed forces trying to overthrow the Syrian government. Nowadays, the United States is not only maintaining a military presence in Syria, but also stealing local resources such as oil, gas and even wheat.

Libya was mired in prolonged political unrest after U.S.-backed rebels overthrew late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“The Western intervention in Libya and the U.S.-led operation in 2011 were a complete conspiracy,” Faraj al-Dali, a Libyan political analyst, told Xinhua.

Iman Jalal, a political science professor at the University of Tripoli, said that trying to impose a political ideology on other countries is doomed to complete failure.

“All previous attempts, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Libya, have proven that it is the U.S.-led (violent) intervention that has caused prolonged poverty and backwardness in these countries,” she noted.

Moreover, as the U.S. Fed has raised its benchmark rates five times this year to tame inflation, Middle Eastern countries look set to suffer more from their already dramatic depreciation in the local currency and high inflation.

The Lebanese pound has plunged by more than 95 percent from the official rate since Lebanon fell into a financial crisis and political deadlock in October 2019.

In Tunisia, inflation rose for 11 consecutive months to 8.6 percent in August, hitting a three-decade high.

The raging inflation and currency depreciation have left many ordinary people across the Middle East in dire financial straits.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said in a recent report that the U.S. Federal Reserve risks causing “significant harm to developing countries” if it continues with rapid rate rises.


The disasters created by the United States have not only hurt the people of the Middle East and North Africa, but also put Europe under great pressure.

The huge influx of migrants has aggravated the economic burden and increased the crime rate in Europe, triggering greater anti-immigrant sentiment in some regional countries and prompting a heated debate across Europe over the distribution of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty.

Meanwhile, observers have accused Europe of turning a blind eye to inhumane conditions and human rights abuses faced by refugees and migrants.

“Backsliding in the protection of the lives and rights of refugees and migrants is worsening and causing thousands of avoidable deaths each year,” Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatovic said in a report in 2021.

“As long as problems such as unrest and poverty are not effectively addressed, the gap in living standards between the two sides of the Mediterranean will persist and people-smuggling will not stop,” Tunisian political analyst Jumai Gasmi told Xinhua. ■

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