The migrant sea disaster in the Medditerranian has sparked an important debate in Europe and beyond on the issue of illegal migration to the continent mainly from the Middle East and Africa. The civil war has put Libya at the center of the crisis, as smugglers have capitilised on the situation, which is visible from the substantial increase in illegal migration operations through the ocean. However, it would be in error to place all the blame on smugglers as there are several other factors that have contributed to the problem. Despite severe risks and hardships, why are more and more people attempting to migrate to Europe through such dangerous channels? The reasons are not very different from those that have prompted people throughout history to travel through deserts, mountains and oceans: political instability, civil wars, persecution, crippling poverty and pursuit of a better life. Most migrants come from countries in the Middle East such as Syria and Africa due to aforementioned factors. Many who traveled to Libya for work during the Gaddafi era are now escaping the country to avoid being engulfed by the conflict and in search of work.

The European Union must consider the dangerous implications, which are now more visible than ever, of increased “securitisation” and limited legal pathways for refugees. Those who argue that the search-and-rescue programmes incentivise illegal migration should note that despite halting the Mare Nostrum programme, the numbers are still rising dramatically in 2015. If anything, the absence of a more open and effective policy for refugees has benefited smugglers, as more and more people turn towards them owing to lack of options. It could be argued that the EU has contributed to the desperation of refugees. It is most crucial to tackle “push factors” such as poverty, unrest and persecution that prompt people to leave, but that would take much time and effort. Till then, any policy meant to deal with the crisis must be based on the understanding that it is primarily need and desperation and not want or greed, which is driving these migrants towards Europe.