Experts, officials in Italy hold different opinions on whether drop of migrant arrivals long-term trend

2017-08-12 22:20:19 GMT2017-08-13 06:20:19(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Eric J. Lyman

ROME, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- The number of migrant arrivals in Italy has dropped precipitously since the beginning of July, but opinions of officials and experts were split over whether the drop-off is temporary or part of a long-term trend.

The numbers tell a stunning tale. Over the first 10 days of August, for example, 1,572 migrants landed on Italy's shores -- most of them from Libya -- a dramatic 76-percent drop compared to the 6,554 in the same period a year ago.

In July, 11,459 arrived, a little less than half the 23,552 migrants who came to Italy in July 2016.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said the drop off is part of a trend as Italy and -- to a lesser extent -- other European Union states, invested cash and manpower in Libya to help stabilize the country that had fallen into chaos since 2011. The money was used to stabilize the country's economy and institutions and, most importantly, to beef up the country's coastguard.

Minniti told Italian journalists,"The idea of reinforcing the Libyan coast guard seemed like a fantasy, but it is already paying dividends."

The Interior Ministry said that during the first weekend in August, Libyan ships rescued 1,180 migrants, compared to just 130 by all non-Libyan vessels.

The move comes after the efforts to better patrol the waters between Turkey and Greece -- which until last year had been the most used entry path into the European Union for migrants -- produced similar results.

In recent weeks, Italian government officials have said there is no reason the number of arrivals will not continue to drop if efforts in Libya and other ports of departure for the migrants continue.

Minniti said that after the August summer break, he plans to lobby the rest of the European Union to funnel more resources into the initiatives like the one that Italy started to reinforce the Libyan coast guard.

But others aren't so sure the plan will have the intended effect."If you close one door, it doesn't take long for someone looking to get in to find another one," Maurizio Ambrosini, a sociologist and commentator on migrant issues in the school of political science at the University of Milan, told Xinhua.

"It's too early to call this a trend. After all, who is to say that the migrants who were stopped won't end up arriving in Spain or elsewhere?" Other commentators echoed that view in the local press.

Ambrosini said that as long as life in the African and Middle Eastern countries providing the bulk of the migrants remains so difficult, there will be those willing to take risks to seek a better life.

"As long as there is war and extreme poverty, there will be people who will want to become migrants," the professor said, "In that context, enforcement efforts can only have a limited success."

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