Wednesday 13 April 2011

Europe’s tiny refugee burden: Putting the Libyan migration crisis into perspective

Anybody believing that the Libyan crisis would create a “biblical exodus” towards Europe or the fear-mongering by Frontex and European politicians that up to 1.5 million migrants may soon arrive on European shores, should take a look at the chart below. 

And please have a look at this website – It is a beautiful collection of pictures showing the human face of the Libyan crisis and the faces of the many poor people who kept the wheels of the Libyan economy turning over the past years - Most want to go home. How dare European politicians insinuate that these people will massively "invade" Europe? 

Just some basic facts:

  • So far, only about 2,800 out of a total of 500,000 people fleeing the violence in Libya have arrived in Europe. This is less than 0.6 percent of all cross-border movements.
  • Egypt and Tunisia bear the real refugee burden – if that term is appropriate in the first place: about 88 percent of all people fleeing Libya arrive on their land borders.
  • The overwhelming majority are migrant workers from Egypt, Tunisia, sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh and elsewhere who want to go home – shattering the myth that the millions of foreigners in Libya would all be “transit migrants” on their way to Euro
  • The movement out of Libya is unrelated to the arrivals of some 20,000 mainly Tunisians on Lampedusa, which is part of the “normal” boat migration by mainly North African young men in search of work. 
  • A combination of favourable weather, decreased police controls and high unemployment among young Tunisian men as a consequence of the decrease in tourist arrivals parly explain the new departures from the Tunisian coast.  See also this article in the Tunisian newspaper Le Temps. 
  • This illegal boat migration has existed since the EU countries introduced visas for North Africans in the early 1990s, which interrupted seasonal and circular migration flows of Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian workers. This forced them to migrate illegally and pushed them into permanent settlement. A clear example of how immigration restrictions can have counter-productive effects.
  •  This cross-Mediterranean migration happens every year, particularly in springtime. Total numbers amount to several tens of thousands per year, or about 2 percent of the annual of 1.5 - 1.8 million non-Europeans migrating to EU countries.
  • Only routes continuously change in response to shifts in border controls in a kind of cat and mouse game. A drop in one place generally leads to an increase at other crossing points, and the other way around.
In sum: there is no indication that there is a major increase in migration from Africa to Europe in response to the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Libyan crisis, let alone that Europe would be invaded by hordes of desperate African migrants.  

·         This was a myth from the start, and the evidence only proves this. It is only sad to see the media and politicians perpetuate this “myth of invasion”.


  1. What a great post Hein. You really need this information to judge the situation.
    I do remember reading that the numbers of Tunisian immigrants are far higher this year- never realised though that they are not refugees. Not that it stopped Italy from perpetuating this myth by granting them temporary visas on humanitarian grounds.

  2. Current arrivals are no entirely unprecedented. Arrivals in Lampedusa were 38,000 in 2008 for instance. Total apprehensions on the Med fluctuate across crossing points depending on where controls are heaviest. it's like squeezing a balloon on one end, or what the Dutch aptly call the "water bed effect". Good point on Italy perpetuating the "refugee myth" - the press also constantly confuses the terms of refugees and migrants

  3. Actually I agree that the word " invasion" is a wrong one in this situation. But Your description is missing many fundamental informations in order to judge this situation.First of all the situation is an emrgency because all immigrants are arriving at the same time and without stop.THAT's A TOTALLY NEW PhENOMENON, to which nobody was ready.

  4. very good and instructive! I always argued the same reason for the emerging of boat people in the mediterranean: visa obligation since the early 1990. Now I researched in archives: p.e. Germany introduced visa obligation against Tunisian nationals and others - 12.09.1972! Italy, Spain, France - later, but in the 1990? - Helmut Dietrich

  5. According to latest news, Italy has an agreement with Tunisia on the 5th april that after 5th april Tunisian migrants won't be welcome on the Italian costs, in addition now Italay is sending 60 Tunisians back home daily.

    So I'd like to know what is the ground reality, is it true that the Tunisian illegal migrants are still entering Italy by the boats in Lampedusa?

  6. Dear Hein, a figure you mention is wrong. Arrivals in Lampedusa in 2008 was 30,000, not 38,000.

  7. thinks by end of May 30.000 "Africans" reached Lampedusa

  8. Dear mr De Haas:

    You state that more restrictive border control, namely visa, can lead to illegality: "This illegal boat migration has existed since the EU countries introduced visas for North Africans in the early 1990s, which interrupted seasonal and circular migration flows of Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian workers. This forced them to migrate illegally and pushed them into permanent settlement."

    That is a false statement imo. Illegality in Europe did not begin in the 1990s. Already at that time, many immigrants did not go back to their country of origin.

    Also, if strict immigration policy explains the multitude of illegal immigrants, please explain why Japan and South Korea, which have very strict immigration laws, have very little immigrants compared to for example the United States, which, comparatively, have an open border policy.

    I look forward to your response.


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