Richard North, 16/02/2015  
 

000a Euronews-016 rescue.jpg

We've been keeping a close eye on the migration situation, but posting on it relatively sparingly to avoid coming over as obsessive. But there are serious issues here, and they're not going away. In fact, this weekend's events are such that the word "unprecedented" is leaping out and screaming for a hearing.

Euronews opened the bidding, with a report of 1,000 migrants being plucked from the sea by the Italian coastguard, joined by the BBC with the news of "at least" a thousand being rescued, only to be capped by the Mail headlining 2,100 in twelve boats having been rescued.

The last time we saw numbers on that scale was at the height of the Mare Nostrum operation in late August last year, approaching 4,000 migrants had been picked up by Italian naval vessels.

What makes the current number unprecedented is that we are in the midst of the "closed" season when, traditionally, the flow of migrants starts up in April and slows to a trickle by October. For over 2,000 to take to the treacherous waters right now, on top of last week's flow, when at least 300 died, is a sure sign that there is something very seriously amiss.

Some of detail comes from Reuters, which tells us that Italy closed its embassy in Libya on Sunday, with Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni calling for a UN mission to calm the worsening conflict, while embassy staff have been sent back to Italy.

Right now, Libya is unravelling. The country, says the New York Times is "falling apart". Two rival governments are operating their own armed forces under separate parliaments. Violence appears to be intensifying and the Islamic State has become terrifyingly active, with relations between Egypt and Libya deteriorating fast.

Order has so far deteriorated that it has become almost impossible to police smugglers who charge up to $2,000 to transport migrants, but that is almost the least of it.

On Sunday, a speedboat carrying four men armed with Kalashnikovs approached a coastguard cutter carrying out a rescue and demanded the return of the migrants' boat in order to use it. Italy's transport minister Maurizio Lupi calls this, "another terrible development in the horrendous trafficking of men, women and children in the Mediterranean".

With that, it is very clear that the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has had enough. He has long called for more help from the EU to deal with migrants and for UN intervention. On Saturday, before even the full scale of the weekend's movements had become apparent, he told RAI TV: "The problems cannot all be left to us because we are the first, the closest, the people who pick up the boats".

More than 160,000 migrants made Italy's shores last year, and now the Northern League is pushing the issue way up the political agenda. Party leader Matteo Salvini says: "I would help them, but I would not let them disembark: we have enough already!"

This is only going to get worse. The instability throughout the Middle East is building, where the cumulative effects of – from Syria to Yemen and now Libya (again) – are building to a crescendo, creating irresolvable stresses. Whatever we've seen so far is only a rehearsal.






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