Thursday, July 28, 2016

Political Science in Naples, Italy: The Role of the Italian Coast Guard in the Refugee/Migrant Crisis in Europe

Europe is currently experiencing possibly one of the largest shifts in population in its history. As of late, hordes of refugees and migrants have been landing on the shores of many of the southern nations in Europe, such as Italy, Greece, and Spain. A spike for Italy occurred in 2011 with the overthrow and later execution of the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (National Geographic, n.d.). Many of these “guests” are making their journey from the western nations of Africa as well as the nations of the war-torn Middle-East. This journey is not one of luxury. The migrants often arrive in boats that the average Charlestonian wouldn’t even trust to take across the harbor over to Shem Creek. Yet, thousands of migrants are continuing to attempt to sail across the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of reaching Europe. Far too often, these daring voyages have ended in tragedy. This year alone, 2,606 recorded migrants were lost at sea on their voyage to Italy (IOM, 2016).
Due to the recent loss of life at sea, the Italian Coast Guard has been taking an active role in EUNAVOR, a joint naval operation being conducted by members of the EU in an effort to rescue migrants and refugees from the unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean. As of this year, the Italian Coast Guard alone has taken an active role in the rescue of approximately 37,000 refugees and migrants. Often, the Coast Guard scrambles every available vessel when it discovers vessels in distress, owing to the sheer numbers of migrants and refugees aboard these vessels.
The number of migrants and refugees on any given boat can range from 100 to 500, and often when one boat is discovered there is another in the vicinity (Guardia Costeria, 2016). This is because they often launch a couple boats at a time from Libya in the hope of staying together throughout the perilous journey (Vogt, 2016). There are cases, however, when the outcome is not fortunate for the migrants. This leaves the Italian Coast Guard rescue divers with the eerie job of body recovery. For instance, in 2013 there was a case where 368 migrants’ lives were lost at sea not far off the coast of a small Italian island (National Geographic n.d.).
Hope does not appear to be on the horizon. There is currently talk within the EU of closing the migrant route through Greece and Turkey, owing to instability. This means we will likely see a spike in the number of migrants and refugees that will take the long, daring trip across the Mediterranean in the near future. This will likely jeopardize more lives among those with the false hope of reaching a prosperous European nation. Little do they know that if they do in fact make it safely across the Mediterranean, they will merely land in a nation that is in the midst of its own financial crisis (Spindler, 2016).

Robert Machamer

Guardia Costeria (2016) “Comunicato-stampa-21-luglio-2016” July 21. Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

International Organization for Migration (2016) “Migrant, Refugee Deaths at Sea Pass 3,000 as Arrivals Near 250,000.” Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

National Geographic (nd) “Amid Record Waves of Refugees, Italy Finding Limits to Its Compassion.” Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

South China Morning Post (nd) “Italian coastguard rescues 4,000 migrants in two days, as asylum-seekers look for alternatives to Greek route.” Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

Spindler, W. (2016. Coastguard rescues some 1,000 refugees and migrants off Italy. Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

Vogt, A. (2016). “Italian coast guard scrambles vessels to rescue 3000 refugees in Mediterranean.” The Daily Telegraph, May 25, 2016. Available at: (accessed July 27, 2016).

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