Chronic. Between the capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15 and the withdrawal of the American army and its allies two weeks later, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people managed to flee Afghanistan in cramming into evacuation flights after a bitter struggle at the airport gates. From now on, this means of escape is closed. For the other candidates for the exodus among the some 2.2 million Afghans who have already fled to neighboring countries, the 3.5 million internally displaced and the 14 million threatened by famine, there is only hope. , minimal, to obtain a refugee status, or to take the land route, with, at the end, for those who dream of Europe, the crossing of the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean is today the most dangerous seaway in the world. The bar of 20,000 migrants dead in the Mediterranean was crossed in 2020, according to United Nations figures. In the first half of 2021, the death toll had doubled compared to the same period the previous year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Even though European relief efforts, under the influence of rightly outraged public opinion and media pressure, have continued to intensify to prevent shipwrecks.
These relief efforts, essential as they may be to save many lives, would they encourage smugglers to use increasingly dilapidated boats, at a lower cost, with the effect of an increase in the number of migrants … and the risk of crossing ?
This is the thesis advanced by the three economists Claudio Deiana, Vikram Maheshri and Giovanni Mastrobuoni (« Migrants at Sea : Unintended Consequences of Search and Rescue Operations », CEPR Discussion Papers, n ° 16173, 2021). The authors develop a theoretical model which predicts that if the rescue operations decrease the risk of sinking (a reasonable assumption) more migrants will attempt the crossing, even in less favorable weather conditions, and in less solid boats (for which the price crossing will be lower). The impact on the actual risk of sinking is therefore theoretically ambiguous: on the one hand, rescue operations reduce it, but, on the other hand, more migrants leave in less favorable metrological conditions and on more dilapidated boats.
Intensification of operations
The data on crossing attempts collected daily by the Italian police between 2009 and 2017 show that the risk of crossing has indeed increased after the intensification of rescue operations from 2013 (operation “Mare Nostrum”). Most of the additional crossings took place on inflatable boats, the risk of sinking of which is estimated to be ten to twenty times greater than that of other boats previously used by the smugglers. Thus, the “crossing market” has expanded thanks to rescue operations, of which the smugglers are the beneficiaries.
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“The only good solution would be to increase legal migration. A less risky solution for migrants… ”