Talks for UN resolution on Libya human smugglers ‘hit wall’

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela says talks on UN security council resolution have ground to a halt

File photo
File photo
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela and Malta's perm rep to the EU Marlene Bonnici
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela and Malta's perm rep to the EU Marlene Bonnici

Talks on a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing for the use of force in the Mediterranean to stop gangs smuggling migrants appear to have hit a wall, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said.

“Talks were progressing well and the EU was very close at clinching a resolution … but for different reasons talks have now slowed down,” Abela said, voicing his opinion on the matter.

The European Union has agreed a mission to target gangs bringing people from Libya as part of a plan to deal with the influx of migrants to the bloc, but requires a U.N. mandate to be able to intervene in Libyan territorial waters.

Russia, which has the power of veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, has warned it was ready to use it. It has accused the West of abusing a 2011 resolution authorizing NATO intervention in Libya to help forcibly topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The EU naval operation against human smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean – EUNAVFOR Med – is currently in its first phase focusing on surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the southern central Mediterranean.

The second and third stage provide for the search and seizure of suspicious vessels, the disposal of vessels and apprehending traffickers and smugglers. But before moving beyond the first stage, the EU needs a UN mandate and, preferably, Libya’s consent.

The Council of Ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss its resettlement and relocation plans. While failing to meet a 40,000 target to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, member states – with the exception of UK, Denmark and Austria among others – agreed to a 32,256 figures.

Member states also agreed to the resettlement of 22,504 migrants in need of protection from Syria and Eritrea, surpassing an original estimated figure of 20,000.

The EU plans to meet the 40,000 pledge before end of year.

On its part, Malta has agreed to take in a total of 74 asylum seekers, down from almost 300: 14 under the resettlement scheme and 60 under the relocation scheme.

“Despite being a frontline member state and densely populated, Malta has accepted to take in the migrants as a show of solidarity with other countries,” Abela told a press briefing.

He explained that the 74 figure was agreed to based on a set of criteria including the member states’ gross domestic product, population, unemployment rate and arrival of migrants.

Admitting that the EU had a long way to go to live up to its solidarity pledge, Abela insisted that Europe had come a long way as well: “Up until a few months ago no one would have thought so many countries would agree to a relocation programme. Tuesday’s agreement was a small but very important step forward.”

It is now up to the EU’s technical staff, together with the UNHCR, to determine how and which asylum seekers will be resettled and relocated in Europe.

Council conclusions of the June Summit agreed to the setting up of reception and first reception facilities in the frontline Member States, with the active support of Member States' experts and of EASO, Frontex and Europol to ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants. It also concluded that the effective return, readmission and reintegration policies for those not qualifying for protection would “discourage people from risking their lives”.

According to Abela, the issue was briefly brought up during the working lunch: “It hasn’t started working as one wants. So far, member states have individual bilateral agreements with third countries. Some, due to historical ties as well, have a good relationship with countries of origin for the repatriation of failed asylum seekers.”