UK and France to seek UN mandate to attack smugglers • Malta to host EU-Africa summit

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat: ‘Lives will be lost at sea just the same but, in the short-term, we need to show criminal networks that they will be brought to justice’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Reuben Piscopo/DOI)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Reuben Piscopo/DOI)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses journalists in Brussels

The European Union has agreed to step up cooperation against smuggling networks through Europol and by deploying immigration officers to third countries, while High Representative Federica Mogherini has been tasked with proposing actions in order to capture and destroy smugglers’ vessels before they can be used.

The United Kingdom and France, members of the United Nations Security Council, will kick off discussions in an attempt to obtain a UN resolution mandating the destruction of boats used by smugglers.

The emergency European Council on the migration crisis, following the tragic death of over 650 refugees and asylum seekers, also saw the EU leaders pledging considerably greater support including vessels, aircraft and experts. The resources allocated to Frontex's Triton border mission will be tripled to €9 million and its operational capability enhanced.

The EU said it had agreed to reinforce its political cooperation with African partners at all levels in order to tackle the cause of illegal migration and combat the smuggling and trafficking of human beings. The EU will raise these issues with the African Union and the key countries concerned, with whom it will propose the holding of a summit in Malta in the coming months.

Addressing a press briefing with the journalists at the European Council, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Malta will be rediscovering its “natural vocation” as a bridge of getting together “the souls of this huge humanitarian crisis”.

“We look forward to a genuine debate on an exceptionally thorny issue,” he said, adding that human rights NGOs will play a huge role in the summit.

Muscat said that the conclusions of today’s meeting – which lasted four hours – was “a lot of what we expected” with the consolidation of previous ideas. “The notable exception is the very clear political signal that Europe is ready to act against the criminal network managing illegal migration flows and profiting from innocent lives,” Muscat said.

He said that the action against the criminal networks would be in accordance to international law. “The obvious preferred option is one that would require a UN resolution but there are other avenues,” he said, referring to a possible approval by a Libya government of national unity – once this is formed.

Muscat said he was heartened by the fact that there appeared to be a renewed realization by EU leaders that this was a humanitarian crisis and everyone agreed to step up their efforts.

“Whether the efforts and resources are enough is a different question and the obvious answer is no. It will never be enough and this wasn’t a groundbreaking summit. The most crucial part was sending a strong message to the criminals that the game has now changed. We will go after the criminals and this will not be about the genuine Libyan people but about the minority of different nationals who profit from people’s suffering.”

On Operation Triton, Muscat said its level of engagement have drastically increased.

The EU leaders however failed to provide a suitable alternative to Mare Nostrum, the Italian operation, because while the funding for the EU’s search and rescue mission have trebled, the rules of engagement have not changed. “Lives will be lost at sea all the same. The high number of displaced people is huge and the solution lies in the democratization, economic development and stability in the countries of origin. But these are long-term solutions. For the short-term, we need to stop smugglers putting migrants on rickety boats… but last week’s tragedy will not be the last,” Muscat said.