EU ministers approve controversial naval operation against Mediterranean people smugglers

Written by on May 18, 2015 in Europe - Comments Off on EU ministers approve controversial naval operation against Mediterranean people smugglers

European Union foreign and defence ministers gave the nod on May 18 to a naval operation plan, to cost an estimated close to 12 million euro in its first year, to break up people-smuggling operations that are costing huge numbers of lives in seeking to bring migrants across the Mediterranean.

A statement after the ministers’ meeting billed the operation as “EUNAVFOR Med- to break the business model of  smugglers and traffickers of people in the Mediterranean”.

Apparently mindful of some of the criticisms of the operation from international organisations and human rights groups, as well as the Libyan government, the statement said that the operation – in searching, seizing and disrupting the assets of smugglers – would be “based on international law and in partnership with Libyan authorities”.

The approval by the foreign and defence ministers was, according to the statement, “one element of the comprehensive EU response to the migration challenge, will enable the formal start of the operational planning for the naval operation”.

The operation would be conducted in sequential phases and in accordance with the requirements of international law, the statement said.

Planning of the operation and the initial phase of surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean will be conducted “as soon as possible”.

The second and third phases of the operation would work to search, seize and disrupt the assets of smugglers, based on international law and in partnership with Libyan authorities.

The operational headquarters of EUNAVFOR Med will be in Rome and Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino (Italy) has been appointed as Operation Commander.

“The common costs of the operation are estimated at 11.82 million euro for a two months start up phase plus an initial mandate of 12 months.”

The launch of the EU naval operation will be on the agenda of the bloc’s foreign affairs council in June.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, whose career background is briefly having been Italy’s foreign minister, said that she expected the decision to be taken “so that we can move forward with the planning and possibly launch the operation in the coming weeks”.

The idea of the operation has been received, in some quarters, with caution and criticism.

On June 13, Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration and Development welcomed the “visionary reforms” to the region’s asylum system put forward that day in the European Commission’s “European Agenda on Migration”.

He went on to comment on the EU’s commitment to triple the resources for Operations “Triton” and “Poseidon” in the Mediterranean Sea so that they are at least equal in effect to ‘Mare Nostrum’. However, he said the EU needs to make search-and-rescue the top priority for this effort.

“As the EU pursues its anti-smuggling initiatives, meanwhile, I urge member states not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire, and to design any operation in complete conformity with international law,” Sutherland said.

The BBC reported on May 11 that Libya had criticised EU proposals to authorise the use of force against people smugglers taking migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.

The Libyan ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told the BBC that the EU’s intentions were unclear and “very worrying”.

“The Libyan government has not been consulted by the European Union. They have left us in the dark about what their intentions are, what kind of military actions they are going to take in our territorial waters, so that is very worrying,” Dabbashi said

“We want to know… how they can distinguish between the fishers’ boats and the traffickers’ boats,” he said.

(Archive photo, from Operation Triton: Frontex)

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