Since 2011, Europe has witnessed a steep increase in the number of irregular migrants from the MENA region crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The IOM reported that in 2016 alone, 181,000 people were detected immigrating to Europe. LEAD’s target countries Tunisia, Libya, and Somalia also witnessed significant increases in numbers of irregular migration. The IOM estimates that in 2017, over 4,100 Tunisians immigrated to Europe. A further 8,700 Tunisian migrants crossing the Mediterranean were caught by Italy and Tunisia the same year, shedding some light on the gravity of the situation. Meanwhile, the Libyan coast has become the a transit hub to Europe, with around 90% of migrant arrivals in Europe originating from Libya in 2014. With hundreds of thousands of migrants passing through Libya or being left stranded, Libya has also become a safe haven for human traffickers. Somali migrants have also been drawn to Libya as a gateway to Europe. The IOM estimates that 5,756 Somalis used the Libyan and Egyptian coasts in order to migrate to Europe in 2014. In February 2018 it was reported that between 5,000-6,000 Somalis had migrated to Libya in the hopes of crossing the Mediterranean.
Migration is especially high amongst youth, with the ILO citing lack of economic prospects and better living conditions as the main reason for their desire to migrate. In the countries where LEAD operates, youth unemployment levels are notably high. In Tunisia, the economy has struggled to keep up with its increasing youth population, now estimated to make up 39.14% of Tunisia’s 11.4 million population. The unemployment rate among 25-29 year olds more than doubled between 1984 and 2008, from 12.6% to 25.2%, with university graduates being hit hardest. The National Institute of Statistics estimated the percentage of Tunisian unemployed graduates (aged 15 - 29) in 2017 at 59.5%, establishing a clear correlation between level of education and unemployment: the higher the level of education obtained, the more likely they will be unemployed. It is for this reason that SPARK operates across North-West Tunisia, an area characterised by high levels of youth unemployment.
Since the Libyan Civil War in 2011, Libya’s 6.3 million inhabitants continue to suffer from armed conflict, instability, and high rates of unemployment. Libya’s youth and women have had to bear the brunt of these events, with unemployment affecting nearly half of all Libyan youth (46%) and one in four women (27%). The Libyan economy is struggling to transition from an oil-revenue and public sector based economy, into one that encourages private sector development. Today, Libya is ranked 188/188 for ease of doing business, with high levels of bureaucracy and an inability to receive credits prevent entrepreneurs from successfully starting their businesses. Due to the security situation, SPARK operates mainly within the eastern area of Libya; by increasing cooperating with the organisation Libya Expertise, SPARK aims to increase its reach in 2018.
After twenty years of civil war, Somalia swore in its first formal parliament in August 2012, followed by the first presidential elections since 1967. Since then, Somalia’s population of 14.3 million people have continued to face hardships with severe droughts occurring in 2016 - 2017 and further instability with the insurgence of al-Shabaab, a jihadist fundamentalist group that has aligned itself with the militant Islamist organisation Al-Qaeda. Lack of external investment, a huge youth population bulge (70% are estimated to be under the age of 30), and the detriments of war have caused for high levels of poverty and unemployment. The World Bank estimates that about half of the population (51.6%) are living below the poverty line and Somalia’s youth unemployment rate is estimated to be 67%. The IOM estimates that since 1991, over a million Somalis have been forcibly displaced internationally and another 1.1 million displaced internally.
Besides high levels of (youth) unemployment, these countries also suffer from internal radical Islamic movements. In Somalia, Al Shabaab has posed a big threat to the country’s security, specifically in the South. This instability has caused for an upsurge in the number of IDPs in Somalia, internal migration to the more stable regions of Puntland and Somaliland having led to additional pressure on the labour market in these regions. Meanwhile, Tunisia is considered to have been the largest exporter of Jihadists in the MENA Region since the start of the Arab Spring. It is estimated that some 5,500 Tunisians travelled to Syria to fight in the country’s civil war, while a further 1,000 – 1,500 are estimated to have joined militant groups in Libya. Tunisia consequently faced a number of terrorist attacks, notably the attack on Tunis’ Bardo Museum in March 2015 and the attack on a sea-side hotel in Sousse in June that same year. LEAD’s activities are therefore being conducted in the North-West regions of Tunisia, with a special focus on Kef and Kairouan, due to the combination of high unemployment rates and the increased presence of (potential) Jihadists.
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