Unless you live in Malta, you might not have noticed an unprecedented search and rescue crisis that has revolved around this island nation since April of this year. What in normal circumstances would have occupied headlines across Europe, has nearly been driven into the background by the dramatic events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic both in Europe and globally.
This crisis has been spurred by a progressive increase in illegal border crossings from Libya towards Malta and Italy. In turn, this increase is a result of at least two factors. The first is mass joblessness among Libya’s large migrant population, caused by an economic decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict inside the country. The second is a resumption of the activities of migrant smugglers, tolerated by the officially recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). The health crisis has confirmed Libya as the main North African country serving as a departure point for Europebound irregular migrants.
The pandemic and its consequences for irregular migration are highlighting the challenge that Libya, as a relatively wealthy but dangerous and conflict-ridden country, continues to pose to European politicians