The UN has said there are no signs a migrant influx from Libya to Europe is abating. The warning comes as Italy pleads for Europe to take collective action to an unfolding crisis.
The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is likely to increase, the UN said Monday, as criminal trafficking networks in lawless Libya ship more and more migrants to Europe's shores.
So far this year 85,183 migrants have reached Italy after being picked up by rescue ships in the Mediterranean, a 20 percent increase from the same time last year, according to Italy's interior ministry.
"There is no slowing down of movement to Libya, which may mean that a larger number of people may continue to try to leave through the central Mediterranean route," Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) special envoy for the route, said on Monday.
While 30 percent migrants are fleeing conflict or persecution, according to a UNHCR study released Monday, 70 percent of those arriving in Italy are economic migrants with little chance of receiving asylum.
Most of the migrants come from Libya's neighboring countries or from West African states like Nigeria, Gambia and Guinea. According the study, the vast majority of migrants and refugees are young, single men with little or no education. About 14 percent are unaccompanied minors, mainly from Eritrea, Gambia and Nigeria.
Based on interviews with migrants, the study found that about half of migrants sought work or were working in Libya but then decided to move on to Europe due to multiple crises in the North African country.
"However, the lack of stability, security and rule of law, the economic crisis and widespread abuse and exploitation pushes some of these to also attempt to reach Europe," said the report, commissioned by UNHCR and done by Altai Consulting and the think tank IMPACT Initiatives.
Almost all the migrants used rapidly expanding criminal trafficking networks, both to enter Libya through the porous southern desert border and onward by boat to Europe.
"The smuggling industry has grown increasingly professional and transnational smuggling organizations further developed," the report said. "Armed groups play an increasingly dominant role in the smuggling industry."
Many migrants face abuse, robberies, extortion and forced labor. Women, especially from Cameroon and Nigeria, also face sexual exploitation and may be in need of international protection.
The release of the report comes as the EU's migration chief and the German, French and Italian interior ministers on Monday promised additional money and training for Libya's coast guard and action to stop human trafficking along Libya's southern border. They also said they would provide Italy with help handling migrants, but did not provide additional details.
The officials held a crisis meeting in Paris on Sunday at Italy's request after it suggested other countries should open up their ports to migrants.
Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni warned Monday that absent burden sharing among EU states a continued influx of migrants risked provoking a backlash in Italian society.
"We are asking for the work to be shared," Gentiloni said at a UN Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Rome. "This is necessary if ... we are to avoid the situation in Italy becoming unsustainable and stoking hostility in a society which until now has responded in an exemplary way, with cohesion."
Italy and the UNHCR have been pressing other EU member states for help in processing and accommodating migrants arriving in Italy, where the system is overburdened after taking in hundreds of thousands of migrants over the past couple years.
cw/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)