Mediterranean migrant crisis: EU preparing possible naval operation, UN Security Council told

The European Union is preparing for a possible naval operation in the framework of the European Union Common Security and Defence Policy as part of a response to the Mediterranean migrant crisis, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the United Nations Security Council on May 11.

The mandate of this operation is currently being elaborated with the EU Member States in Brussels, and will be discussed by the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, on May 18, with a possibility of taking decisions, Mogherini said.

“2015 looks even worse than the previous year and consider than in 2013, 3 300 migrants died trying to enter the European Union by sea. Which means that three out of four people who perished by crossing a border in the world, died in the Mediterranean Sea.

“This tells us that our first priority must be to save lives; to prevent the loss of lives at sea. We believe, in the European Union, that this is a huge responsibility we all share, not only as Europeans but also globally,” she said.

Mogherini said that the situation was unprecedented, an “exceptional situation that requires an exceptional and co-ordinated response”.

“There is an urgent need to respond in an immediate and joint way. An emergency response to a structural phenomenon that will remain if we don’t act effectively on its deep real causes: poverty, conflicts, crisis, human rights violations all the way through Africa and the Middle East and beyond, including the situations in Syria, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa.”

The EU was aware of the fact that there was not “one magic solution” but a comprehensive response to a complex problem.

She said that the EU was increasing its work to address the root causes of the tragedies as well as tackling trafficking and smuggling in the Mediterranean.

The EU had met with the African Union on the issue and on May 13, the European Commission will present a new “European Agenda on Migration, offering solutions to both the immediate challenges and ways to manage better migration in all aspects in the longer term, taking a new approach and taking new responsibilities”.

The EC would propose to increase resettlement efforts and enhance legal opportunities to reach Europe.

The EU had on April 23 decided to step up efforts to tackle the humanitarian tragedy in the Mediterranean, including to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks.

The European Council had decided to strengthen immediately the European Union presence at sea, enforcing the existing operations Triton and Poseidon. Their capacities are being strengthened by trebling the financial resources available to them and the sending of additional maritime assets, Mogherini said.

She told the UN Security Council that European leaders had asked her to propose actions to disrupt the business model of human trafficking networks across the Mediterranean: “the High Representative to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers in accordance with international law”.

She gave an assurance that no refugees or migrants intercepted at sea will be sent back against their will. Their rights under Geneva conventions will be fully honoured, Mogherini said.

Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative for International Migration, told the Security Council that the Mediterranean migrant crisis calls for collective action focused on the immediate need to save lives or else it will represent “a moral failure of the first order,” one that undermines international law and security.

Sutherland outlined priorities for the collective response to the situation, including through an urgent focus on saving lives, boosting law enforcement against smugglers, increasing safe avenues for refugee resettlements, greater solidarity with countries closer to conflict, and intensifying efforts to end conflicts that are driving people away.

“The situation in the Mediterranean represents – first and foremost – a security crisis for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in harm’s way: those risking their lives to cross the seas, those trapped and abused in transit countries, those fleeing conflicts, natural disasters, and other threats to their lives and livelihoods,” Sutherland said.

Noting that the EU had recently pledged to triple its resources and must commit to search-and-rescue as its first priority, he called on Europe and Africa to develop a common strategy to deal with smugglers and traffickers.

“This will not be easy,” he said. “It demands better governance and co-ordinated law enforcement efforts along the entire routes of migratory movements.”

The stakes are high for organised crime – moving people illegally across borders is today more lucrative than the sale of illicit arms and drugs, he said. All enforcement measures will have to adhere to international human rights, humanitarian, maritime, and refugee law, Sutherland said.

He called for more attention to the challenges of small countries like Lebanon and Jordan, which are together hosting more than 1.8 million refugees from Syria. In Lebanon’s case, this represents almost a quarter of its population and half of the refugees are children, a majority of whom are not in school. The burden cannot fall on the few.

“We need more resettlement countries. We need larger resettlement quotas. Only half of the 28 EU member states are resettlement countries,” he urged.

Sutherland also spotlighted the responsibility of those countries where inequality, dysfunctional governance and poverty drive people to migrate. “They need to be accountable toward their own citizens and create conditions where everyone can benefit from economic and social advancement,” he said.

In the meantime, the international community needs to offer far more aid to countries close to conflict zones, to ensure the safety of refugees and migrants, educate their children, and offer real hope for the future.

Mr. Sutherland urged the need to address the larger problems including the root causes –”conflicts that go on for years on end, authoritarian governments that abuse their citizens, demographic challenges that seem to grow exponentially.”

(Photo of Mogherini: UN Photo/Loey Felipe



The Sofia Globe staff

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