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World

Smugglers Modify Routes As EU Works To Stem Flow Of Migrants

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This summer will undoubtedly bring more migrant crossings and perhaps more deaths. Elizabeth Collett is director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, and she joins us from Brussels. Welcome.

ELIZABETH COLLETT: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Why have we seen this sudden increase in deaths, do you think?

COLLETT: Well, I mean, the numbers crossing the Central Mediterranean, if you look at the numbers from 2014 and 2015, are not significantly different. Why we are seeing an increase in the mortality rate is because in recent months, the vast majority of people have been crossing the relatively safer journey - making relatively safer journey from Turkey to the Greek islands where the risk of death is far lower.

Due in part to the EU-Turkey deal, we're now less focused on that region of the world and focused back towards the Central Mediterranean where people are taking extremely risky trips on very unsafe vessels across a longer stretch of water to reach the European Union.

SHAPIRO: I think everybody understands why people are coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan. Describe why these migrants from Africa are making this dangerous crossing.

COLLETT: Well, this is, in every case, regardless of which route, a mixed flow. And it's not a particularly new flow. We've seen people taking this crossing - whether across the Western, Central, or Eastern Mediterranean - over the last two decades. And there's a mixed number of motives. Some people are fleeing persecution in their country. Eritrean nationals may be fleeing conscription into the army and an authoritarian regime.

You're also seeing other people trying to escape poverty and seeking a better life for economic reasons and others who are trying to join family members in the European Union. What is common to all of them is the risks they are willing to take to make that journey.

SHAPIRO: We've heard so much about efforts to stop the flow of migrants from Turkey, the EU talking to Turkish leaders. Are there similar conversations happening between North African countries and European countries?

COLLETT: You've certainly had politicians in Europe and said policymakers talking about, well, what are the options of replicating the EU-Turkey deal with North African countries? But we're talking about a very, very different dynamic in terms of the politics and the partnerships with those countries.

The Turkish government is a strong, stable government, and the EU has been willing to offer things to the Turkish government that they may not be willing to offer elsewhere, notably visa liberalization for Turkish nationals. When you turn to North Africa, it's difficult to see which governments would be viable or even possible in terms of making that deal.

SHAPIRO: So when you look at this route from North Africa to Italy, and you combine the political instability in the departure countries with the more dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean with the more rickety boats that people are using on this route, is there any reason to believe that things won't just get worse all summer long?

COLLETT: I mean, I think that the figures of the last week suggest that those numbers will increase over the summer. We're also starting to see numbers departing from Egypt and making an even-longer crossing towards the Italian coast, which is a new dynamic that should be taken into account.

But the truth is there is proliferating instability in many countries in the European neighborhood and beyond. The drivers that have been impelling people towards Europe are not receding, so there will have to be, I think, some serious consideration about what the long-term prospects are for managing migration flows to the European Union and some extremely hard decisions, I think, facing European politicians.

SHAPIRO: Elizabeth Collett is director of the European Migration Policy Institute Europe and joined us from Brussels. Thank you for speaking with us.

COLLETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.