A year on from the RMMS feature article, The Eritrean Exodus, and the numbers of all migrants reaching Europe in 2018 has dramatically decreased from 2017. Less than 800 migrants arrived in Italy via the Central Mediterranean route last month – less than one-tenth of the figure from the same month of 2017. However, Eritreans are again the top group of new arrivals entering Italy in 2018. This new rise could indicate a changing tide in the arrival of Eritreans in Libya as well. For example, in February 2018, a packed smugglers’ truck crashed southeast of Bani Waleed, Libya, killing 19 people on board. Around 180 migrants were in the truck, mostly from Eritrea, as reported by IOM. UNHCR reported that Eritreans were the top group of African asylum seekers in 2017. Reports of Eritreans in Libya have not dissipated, likely meaning that Eritreans on the move are still a trend to watch.
In 2015, Eritreans were the single largest group of migrants and refugees entering Italy by sea (25 % of all arrivals in Italy). However, the number of Eritreans along the Central Mediterranean route into Italy significantly decreased in 2016, almost 50% compared to 2015. In 2017, Eritreans were the fifth group, accounting or around 7% of the total arrivals in Italy.
The Central Mediterranean route is used by nearly all Eritreans use to reach Europe, in boats which depart from points along the Libyan coastline. In addition to the risks of the sea crossing, the migration journey from Eritrea through Libya and Sudan is extremely dangerous. Eritreans and others encounter serious human rights abuses – including slavery, kidnapping, physical and sexual abuse – and numbers of people in vulnerable and abusive circumstances in Libya has increased dramatically in the last few years.
The international humanitarian community has begun relief efforts and started registration of refugees and other migrants to try to find solutions to the problems in Libya. Nearly 550,000 persons of concern are registered in Libya, including 200,000 internally displaced people and 44,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Although resettlement and evacuation efforts have been stepped for people trapped in Libya by government entities and UN organizations such as IOM and UNHCR, these processes are often slow and small scale. In addition, options for Eritreans in Libya remain limited – many young people leave Eritrea to avoid indefinite military service and face arbitrary detention if they return to Eritrea. With a steady flow of Eritreans embarking on the journey to Europe, and few alternatives when they reach Libya, the percentage of Eritreans taking the sea journey to Italy may continue to increase.