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Refugees. With the Balkan route now closed, Italy is expecting a summer of record landings. But Syrians are trapped in the war or in Greece, and Egypt will not become the new Libya.

Italy braces for wave of migrants from North Africa

No sea highway has been opened yet for people smugglers from Egypt to Italy, and the reconstructions talking about a new Qaddafi named el-Sisi who uses refugees as diplomatic retaliation are, for the moment, speculations. Nonetheless, it’s true that more than 1,000 migrants have landed on the Sicilian coast, most of them from Libya, but two fishing boats have reached the port of Augusta after having spent days crossing from Egypt, carrying many unaccompanied Egyptian minors.

That Egypt is the starting base for a residual part of the flow of migrants toward Italy is not news, UNHCR and IOM explain. “As a tendency, 10-15 percent of the overall number of migrants arrives from Egypt,” says Flavio Di Giacomo, manager for the Rome branch of the International Organization for Migration. “And, at the moment, that is in the winter, there’s a seasonal increase by tenfold, but it might be simply owed to the beautiful weather and to the calm sea, or it might be caused by a contingent difficulty by the Egyptian coast guard in controlling the traffic coming, almost constantly, from around the port of Alexandria. We don’t know and, anyway, the absolute numbers are still too small, and it’s still too early to understand what’s going to happen this summer.”

Last year no one would have been able to foresee the more than 1 million refugees arriving on the Greek coast.

But there’s no doubt about one thing: There are no spillovers from the Balkan route to the Central Mediterranean route, the one ending on the southern Italian shores. There were only two Syrians gathered together with the other 340 immigrants yesterday on the Peluso ship and brought to the trading port of Augusta. And, before them, only 26 with that nationality have reached Italy since the start of the year.

The trip from Egypt is a long one. You need to navigate for a week at least. Moreover, Egypt is not good as a transit country, because you need not only a passport, but a visa too and, for those running away from Aleppo or from the refugee camps near the Turkish or Jordanian border, getting one is almost impossible. In fact, the 42,323 Syrians (UNHCR data) who arrived on our shores two years ago went through a circuitous route: by airplane, and then by truck until reaching Libya, a much more expensive road that only a first wave of refugees, the first ones to escape, the richer ones, could afford.

It was, after that, true that in Greece, from March 20, when the E.U.-Turkey agreement was implemented, the emigrational flow has decreased by 90 percent. This has been certified by the European Agency for Border Control, Frontex: In April, there were only 2,700 arrivals — still mostly from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq — a few at a time, 20-30 people daily, in comparison to the 2,000-3,000 daily that came before the agreement. On Friday, 118 people landed in Chios and in Kos, but this doesn’t mean that the trend has been inverted. There are still 54,700 refugees trapped in Greece, 9,300 of them in Idomeni, along the railroad tracks and highway rest stops, a few hundreds of meters from the Macedonian border.

Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas -— who on Friday received in Athens a U.N. delegation sent to control compliance to human rights in the immigrant processing centers — has promised he will clear out the tent city in the Piraeus area (1,400 people) by the middle of June, in order to find a “more dignifying solution.”

Meanwhile, the usual flow from Africa toward the Italian shores continues — 8,370 immigrants in April, most of them Eritreans, Nigerians and Egyptian minors who, unlike adults can’t be returned to their home countries based on the Italy-Egypt agreement. And so Italy has now become the most wanted destination, surpassing Greece for the first time in 2016, but remaining targeted by much smaller transit volumes because of the instability in Libya.

The IOM’s numbers tell us that 31,219 refugees have reached Italian shores as of May 11 (almost as many as in Greece in 2014, when the arrivals in Italy were 170,000). Still that year 155,765 people arrived in Greece, but in 2015 Greece has seen record arrivals (853,650 refugees) while Italy has remained at almost the same level (153,842).

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