Giovanni Mastrobuoni (Collegio Carlo Alberto and University of Torino) (webinar)
23 November 2020 @ 12:45 - 13:45
“Migrants at Sea: Unintended Consequences of Search and Rescue Operations”
The Central Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous crossing in the world for irregular migrants. Every day, over half a million potential migrants wait in Libya to travel to Italy with the aid of human smugglers. In response to high profile shipwrecks and mounting deaths, European nations intensified search and rescue operations in 2013. We develop a model of irregular migration in order to identify the effects of these operations on activity along this smuggling route. Leveraging plausibly exogenous variation from rapidly varying weather and tidal conditions, we find that smugglers responded to these operations by sending out boats in worse weather conditions and by shifting from seaworthy, wooden boats to flimsy, inflatable rafts when they became available. In doing so, these operations induced more crossings and had the ultimate effect of offsetting many of the intended safety benefits of search and rescue operations, which were captured at least in part by smugglers. A more successful policy should restrict the supply of inflatable rafts and target the demand side by expanding legal alternatives to irregular migration and improving domestic conditions in migrants’ home countries.