Managing Mixed Migration: The Central Mediterranean Route to Europe

Search-and-rescue operation by Belgian vessel as part of Operation Triton, June 23, 2015. (Francesco Malavolta/Frontex)

Every summer since 2014 has seen an increase in the number of refugees and migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and Malta. This increase in migration is having a wide-ranging impact on countries of origin, transit, and destination, creating new and complex challenges for governments, humanitarian agencies, the European Union, and the international community at large.

This paper focuses on mixed migration along the Central Mediterranean route, which reemerged as the world’s deadliest maritime migration route in 2015 and again in 2016. It investigates the underlying causes for this mixed migration, arguing that push factors have become more relevant than pull factors in driving mixed movements. It also maps the route and examines European responses to mixed migration across the Mediterranean.

The paper offers a number of lessons learned that should inform policy discourse on how the EU and the international community can better respond to the challenges of mixed migration along the Central Mediterranean route:

  • Focus on push factors: Addressing the migration crisis in the long term will require greater focus on the factors causing people to flee.
  • Look beyond border control: While border control mechanisms can lead to shifts in migration routes, they do not stem overall movement.
  • Improve collaboration and solidarity: While the European Commission has implemented some pragmatic and innovative ideas to manage the migration crisis, EU member states have failed to match its commitments and actions.
  • Bolster rescue-at-sea operations: Existing efforts need to be reinforced through internationally supported, long-term protection mechanisms geared toward preventing deaths at sea.
  • Create more legal alternatives: There has been limited action on creating legal avenues for refugees and migrants to enter the EU, which could help significantly reduce the size of irregular mixed migratory movements to Europe.