Italy has raised the alarm over a surge in migrants setting off from Algeria, raising fears that the north African country is on course to replace Libya as the starting point of a new Mediterranean route for Europe.
About 800 people have made the crossing from Algeria this year, landing on beaches in Sardinia in small wooden boats after 24 hours at sea. In one four-day period this summer, 11 boats arrived.
“We had just over 1,100 in the whole of 2016, so we are on course to beat that this year,” a local authority spokeswoman in Sardinia said. “Small boats are arriving continuously.”
Sailings from Libya dropped sharply this summer, leading to an overall 82 per cent decline in the number of migrants arriving in Italy in August.
It is thought that key traffickers in the Libyan coastal town of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, have been paid by Italy to suspend their lucrative business.
On Sunday, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, visited his Algerian counterpart in Algiers to ask for help in stopping the new surge of sailings from the beaches of Algeria.
He made the trip following an appeal by Francesco Pigliaru, the governor of Sardinia, who described “serious social alarm” on the island after reports of crimes being committed by migrants.
In July, a bomb exploded outside a migrant reception centre in the Sardinian town of Dorgali, damaging the centre but killing no one.
Many of the migrants arriving from Algeria head for the beach at Porto Pino on the southern tip of Sardinia, but some also land at an adjacent area which is used as a military test range. “Those migrants are promptly intercepted, but others try to vanish into the countryside,” the local authority spokeswoman said.
The arrivals are all Algerians, suggesting that the route is not yet being used as an alternative crossing point by sub-Saharans who find their passage through Libya blocked.
The Libyan shutdown has coincided with an increase in migrant sailings from Morocco to Spain, with 593 rescued on one day in August from 15 small boats as they tried to cross the nine-mile Strait of Gibraltar.
The migrants leaving Algeria are evading the country’s tight security, enforced by President Bouteflika, 80, who has held office since 1999. His rule followed a civil war between Islamists and the military after the generals declared an electoral victory by the Islamists void in 1991.
With Mr Bouteflika reportedly close to death, and the army and intelligence officials fighting for power, there are concerns over renewed instability in the country.
“Algeria is fragile and could have serious problems after Bouteflika goes, starting with the risk of civil war, followed by migration,” Andrea Margelletti, the head of the Centre for International Studies think tank in Rome, said.
“The closure of the Libyan route doesn’t mean the migrant flow will stop. It’s like water, it will find an outlet. This is not an emergency, it is an epochal phenomenon.”
Source: The Times