Europe’s Race to the Bottom on Refugees

European defense and foreign ministers have just agreed to an ambitious naval operation to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean. While this is an important step, military action alone will not be enough to end the crisis.

LONDON – European defense and foreign ministers agreed on Monday to an ambitious naval operation – involving contributions from 12 countries and over 1,000 troops – to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean. But military action alone will not end the migration crisis – a crisis that, this year alone, has led to the deaths of more than 1,800 people trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa.

The expansion of Europe’s naval presence in the Mediterranean this spring has had benefits. It led to a massive 95% decline in the death rate of those attempting to make the journey to Europe from Africa, with only a few dozen asylum seekers having died in the last two months.

The latest initiative arises from the EU's subsequent attempts to design a military effort that could “disrupt the business model” of smugglers. And, ostensibly, it was successful even before it began, with arrivals to Italy from Libya declining significantly. But, in fact, the smugglers have simply shifted their routes, and are now increasingly making their way toward Greece from Turkey and Egypt, or entering the European Union via the land route in the Balkans. The smugglers are one step ahead of the posse.

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