Why the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is falling

Libya’s version of catch and release

OVER the past three summers, tens of thousands of migrants piled into boats to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. This summer, though, the sea was unusually empty. Since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal in 2016—in effect closing the eastern route to Greece—Italy has been the main destination for migrants. But the number of arrivals there in July was down by more than half compared with last year. In August it fell even further: fewer than 4,000 people came ashore, against more than 21,000 in August 2016. It was the lowest monthly figure recorded in nearly two years.

No one quite knows why. Italy has provided equipment and training to Libya’s coastguard, which has stepped up patrols. The seas have also been rough. But two militias in the western city of Sabratha, thought to be behind much of the people-smuggling, have a different explanation. They claim that Italy offered them money and…

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