Why Record Numbers of African Migrants Are Showing Up at the U.S.-Mexican Border

Europe’s failure to help refugees in Libya is driving them across the Atlantic.

BY PRIYALI SUR | JUNE 26, 2019, 1:12 PM

One recent June week, the United States stopped a record number of African refugees and migrants at its southern border. Hundreds of people fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and beyond are embarking on journeys to South America either by boat or plane and then, on foot, making the long and treacherous trek north through Colombia and Panama on their way to the United States. At the same time, in the last six months, Europe recorded a steep drop in the number of African migrants and refugees reaching its border. In Italy, sea crossings dropped by 80 percent within a year.

Both trends are likely related to the European Union’s regional disembarkation policy, which was first introduced by the European Council in June 2018. Under that policy, Libya became the main center for processing the refugee and asylum applications of those trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into Europe. People intercepted at sea by the EU-trained and EU-equipped Libyan Coast Guard are not taken to Europe but instead brought right back to the raging civil war in Libya, where they find themselves in locally run detention centers. Of the 700,000 refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers currently in Libya, many have died or gone missing. (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not released official numbers.) Others face physical torture, starvation, and sexual violence.

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