African securityEU to launch Mediterranean military operation to end human trafficking
As soon as 25 June, the EU will launch a sea and air mission aiming to stop human traffickers from bringing more African migrants into Europe. The operation will include the destruction of vessels used by the traffickers, and may involve operations on Libyan territory against traffickers’ targets. So far this year, more than 1,800 migrants have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean on their way from Libya to Italy. The EU operation, which will initially be authorized for one year, will be run out of Rome and will be under the command of an Italian rear admiral, Enrico Credendino. Refugee rights groups have expressed concern over the EU plan.
The EU will launch a sea and air mission aiming to stop human traffickers from bringing more African migrants into Europe. The operation will include the destruction of vessels used by the traffickers.
So far this year, more than 1,800 migrants have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean on their way from Libya to Italy.
The first phase of the operation will involve intelligence gathering, with U.K. drones and surveillance equipment playing a major role. In subsequent phases of the operation, hostile vessels suspected of carrying migrants would be boarded, searched, seized, or disposed of in Libyan territory or international waters, after a chapter 7 UN resolution to authorize the use of force to do so is voted on.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a Brussels press conference that the plan could be launched as soon as 25 June.
“There is a clear sense of urgency as we all know that June is the beginning of summer and in this operation, seasons are important,” she said. “As summer comes, more people are travelling so we want to have the operation in place as soon as possible, if it is to deter the traffickers’ and smugglers’ organizations.”
An EU strategy paper discussing the various options available to EU members referred to ground operations in Libya against human trafficking targets (see “EU planning military attacks on trafficking networks in Libya to stop migrant boats,” HSNW, 11 May 2015), but Mogherini did not discuss this option in her press conference.
One diplomat told the Guardian that the mission’s rules of engagement have still to be worked out. He described the deployment of such forces as “the next step in terms of operational details.” Among other aspects of the operation to be discussed, the diplomat said, was the acceptable level of collateral damage to Libyan targets and civilians.
The EU operation, which will initially be authorized for one year, will be run out of Rome and will be under the command of an Italian rear admiral, Enrico Credendino.
Libya, which earlier expressed support for the EU plan, has now qualified its support, expressing unease about the possibility of fishermen’s boats being mistakenly targeted.
Stronger opposition to the plan is coming from refugee rights groups, which say they are worried the implementation of the plan would result in blocking the escape routes of people fleeing for their lives from Syria, Eritrea, and West Africa – where most of the migrants originate – dooming many of them to death.
“An unintended consequence of this mission is that it may even lead to more deaths,” said Michael Diedring, the secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). “If there is a shortage of vessels, even more people will be packed into them. There is even a possibility, given the desperate situation these people face, that they might try to construct their own boats.”
Analysts note that the traffickers typically lease boats from local fishermen on a per-trip basis – as do other criminals and smugglers. To avoid notice, the boats are loaded – often, overloaded – with migrants at the last minute, usually in total darkness, before they depart on their perilous voyage to Italy.
To avoid detection by naval patrols when the sun rises, the migrants are crammed into the hulls of these boats, so that often there is no way to tell whether an innocent looking vessel is carrying hundreds of illegal migrants below deck.
Diedring said that there was a risk that boats could be targeted with people still on board. “The solution to putting the smugglers out of business is to increase safe legal channels for migration,” he said. “It is ironic that people fleeing from war and persecution are being met with more of the same.”
The Guardian notes that EU member states are divided by sharp disagreements over a European Commission proposal aiming to share the number of migrants who arrive in Europe more evenly between EU members.
French prime minister, Manuel Valls, on Sunday joined the United Kingdom in opposing a quota system which could stir anti-migrant feelings. “France has already done a lot,” he said.
The EC proposal called for France to take 14 percent of migrants who reached the EU’s shores, while 18 percent would be assigned to Germany, the largest recipient of migrants at present. Italy would have been asked to accept nearly 12 percent of the north African evacuees, and Spain 9 percent.