Timeline of the Mediterranean
50 millions years ago: continental drift creates over 10’000km of coastline around a relatively calm sea.
2’000 – 250 BC: Egyptians trade by sea with the Minoans in Crete. Phoenicians found merchant colonies throughout the Mediterranean, are followed by the Greeks, their rivalry is well established by the 5th Century BC.
1st Century BC – 6th Century AD: By 30 BC, the Mediterranean becomes one political unit – Rome. By the 5th Century AD, Germanic tribes, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals control various coasts.
7th – 16th Century: With the rise of Islam, Mediterranean is divided between Christianity and Islam, Spain vs. Anatolia. Frequent fights over Cyprus, Crete, and Sicily. In 12th Century, Barcelona, Genoa, Venice, and Constantinople build extensive trading empires, despite threat from Muslim pirates. In 1453 the Turks capture Constantinople. 1516 – 1574 entire eastern Mediterranean is controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
16th Century: Mediterranean loses some of its importance to the Atlantic coast of Europe, because of the safety of long distance sailing and trade routes going to America. There is a balance of power between Spain and the Ottoman empire until the 18th Century.
20th Century: the Mediterranean is one of the main battle areas in WWII between Axis and Allies. The Cold War splits the sea into pro america and pro soviet factions. Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy and France are part of NATO, while Syria is pro soviet, Egypt is at first pro soviet and then bought out to be pro America.
Now: Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, says the refugee crisis has turned the Mediterranean sea into a “cemetery”, as more and more refugees drown (2013)
Domestic political pressure in Europe is leading to the EU putting more pressure on stopping migrants from coming into Europe. They want to push the problem back to land, and are empowering Libya by giving them the necessary funds to strengthen their coast guard. Libyan coast guards patrol the sea, far beyond their own borders into international waters, and take migrants back to Libya. They use unprofessional and dangerous intimidation tactics. Despite the money they receive from the EU, their organizational structure isn’t very well developed, making the situation more dangerous. The refugees that are taken back to Libya are treated as criminals in a famously broken justice system, many prisoners have reported horrendous conditions, torture, and rape. Although there is a bit of a drop in migrants crossing the sea, it is not because of this pressure, but because of a deal between the EU and one of the major militias in Libya to stop trafficking. They are paying the militia not to smuggle anymore, while at the same time accusing rescue missions of collaborating with smugglers. More refugees are being locked up in detention centers in Libya, because there aren’t any less refugees trying to reach Europe. With less NGOs able to effectively work in the area, more people will drown, because the root cause is not addressed, and so there are still as many people finding different ways to reach the mediterranean. NGOs operate in international waters off the coast of Libya, which according to Maritime Laws is legal, but Libya has “asserted its right to operate well beyond the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, defending the move as necessary in order to control the rescue operations” (1). NGO boats are still allowed to continue their rescue operations, however, it has become increasingly unsafe to do so, and so many of them have stopped. Some NGOs have been accused of collaborating with smugglers as an attempt to stop their operations too. Italian authorities drew up a code of conduct for NGOs, 5 out of 8 did not agree to this code. MSF objected to the requirement that they must themselves take the migrants to a safe port instead of transferring people, as it would hurt their effectiveness, as they cannot rescue more people in the area while other refugees are being brought to safety. They have, along with other organizations, questioned the necessity of having to allow police officers on board, as this damages their goal of neutrality. Save the Children agreed to the code of conduct, saying they already operated in this way, and yet they too had to stop their mission due to Libya’s increased presence. Italy had threatened to shut its ports to NGOs that did not agree to the codes, but the most they can do is institute more checks and investigations on their vessels. Right now, there is only one large NGO boat and a few smaller ones rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean.