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Migrants at Sea: Unintended Consequences of Search and Rescue Operations

  • Series
  • Speaker(s)
    Giovanni Mastrobuoni (Collegio Carlo Alberto, Italy)
  • Field
    Empirical Microeconomics
  • Location
  • Date and time

    October 26, 2020
    12:00 - 13:00

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, when inflatable rafts became readily available, by shifting from seaworthy wooden boats to flimsy inflatable rafts. 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 target the demand side by expanding legal alternatives to irregular migration and improving domestic conditions in migrants' home countries.

Giovanni Mastrobuoni is an applied micro-economist who has worked extensively on crime and migration issues. He has published in the Review of Economics Studies, Journal of European Economic Association, the Economics Journal, and AEJ: Applied, among others.

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