Where they come from: the African migrants of the Med
Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia are where the majority hail from
File image taken from video by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, shows the alleged missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. Refugees from Nigeria come primarily from the north, where they are fleeing the activities Boko Haram. Photograph: AP Photo/File
The African migrants trying to reach the shores of Sicily in recent months are primarily from six countries across the continent, five of which are riven by conflict or ruled by oppressive regimes.
Of these six nations, Eritrea is home to the highest number of African refugees trying to get to Sicily. There are more than 300,000 Eritrean asylum seekers worldwide, and there is “little sign they want to return to their homes”, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993, and although it is not involved in a full-blown armed conflict at present, border disputes with its neighbours are recurring.
Its government, under President Isaias Afwerki, is brutally repressive and expects all of its citizens to adhere to military conscription until they are 40. Opposition movements are not tolerated and national elections have not occurred since the country voted for independence.
According to the United Nations, there are 1.1 million Somali, 143,000 Malian and 66,000 Nigerian refugees worldwide. All three of their countries have internal armed conflicts in which government forces are pitted against Islamic extremist groups.
The recently elected Somali government has been involved in a protracted fight against the terrorist group Al-Shaabab, but instability involving interclan warfare stretches back to the early 1990s.
In landlocked Mali, in west Africa, most refugees come from the country’s north, where the democratically elected government has been fighting a Tuareg insurgency since 2007. This has been exacerbated by the eruption of the Libyan conflict in 2011 and the subsequent proliferation of weapons across the region.
Refugees from Nigeria – the continent’s largest economy – come primarily from the north, where they are fleeing the activities of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has conducted waves of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings as part of its efforts to establish an Islamic state within Nigeria’s borders.
Although Ghana is seen as one of Africa’s most progressive countries both economically and politically, the UNHCR says there are officially 21,000 refugees from the country linked to unrest in the northern territory.
Between 1994 and 1995 land disputes in the north erupted into ethnic violence, leaving an estimated 1,000 people dead and a further 150,000 displaced.
But thousands of Ghanaians were working in Libya when the civil war broke out there. The International Organisation for Migration says it has helped more than 18,000 Ghanaians over the past few years who were stranded in the country.
The UNHCR has also noted an increase in asylum seekers from Gambia, which it currently puts at 3,500.