EU launches military action against people smugglers in the Med

General Patrick de Rousiers says first phase will focus on intelligence gathering and the operation will remain outside Libyan territorial waters.

The European Union will start its military operation against people smugglers in Libya on 1 July, with the first phase being the gathering of information.

“There are things which we can do in international waters that can start now,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

"EU has never taken the issue of migration as seriously as we are doing now. With this operation, we are targeting the business model of those who benefit from the misery of migrants. But it's only a part of a broader strategy including the cooperation with our partners in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, and the work with the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR.”

Mogherini said the EU was determined to contribute to save lives, dismantle the networks of the smugglers of human beings and address the root causes of migration."

The operation – EUNAVFOR Med – will focus on attacking the smugglers and traffickers and to dismantle their business model. Divided in three phases, the operation will be made up of maritime and airborne surveillance activities.

General Patrick de Rousiers, chairman of the European Union Military Committee, said the first phase of the mission will take place outside Libya’s territorial waters.

“We will comply with international law and we know that this [the action plan against smugglers] is not the solution to the crisis but just a part of an overall solution. We are determined to make smugglers’ lives difficult,” the General told journalists.

De Rousiers explained that the operation will be taking part in a complex environment, which makes the operation “military” in nature.

“Libya is not a stable place. There were events at sea that took place and we need a robust procedure,” he said.

At least a thousand personnel are expected to take part in the operation. EUMC is currently in the phase of launching the operation, bringing in assets and outreaching to various sectors.

The common costs of the operation are estimated at €11.82 million for a two months start up phase and the initial mandate of 12 months.

The mission will be interacting with Frontex, Interpol and Europol, among others.

Following the first phase which is expected to take a few weeks, Adm Enrico Credendino, who will be leading the Mediterranean mission, will provide his assessment upon which phase 2 will be based.

It is planned that the second stage of the operation provides for the search and, if necessary, seizure of suspicious vessels. 

A third phase would allow the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers.