EU ministers approve military plan to defeat smugglers

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the operation would be carried out in phases with surveillance and assessment of human smuggling networks in the Mediterranean being the first priority. 

Federica Mogherini
Federica Mogherini

European Union ministers have rubber stamped the planned military mission that could translate in the destruction of boats used by human traffickers, which have carried an estimated 1,800 migrants to their deaths in the Mediterranean in the first five months of the year.

The 19-page document approved by ministers on Monday underlines the bloc’s intention to “disrupt the business model of the smugglers” by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels and assets before they are used by the smugglers.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the operation would be carried out in phases with surveillance and assessment of human smuggling networks in the Mediterranean being the first priority. 

In the second and third phases hostile vessels suspected of harbouring migrants could be boarded, searched, seized or disposed of in Libyan territory or international waters – as long as a chapter 7 UN resolution to authorise the use of force to do so is obtained first

The operation could be launched as soon as 25 June, Mogherini told a Brussels press conference, adding that there is “a clear sense of urgency” as the summer months are edging closer.

“As summer comes, more people are travelling so we want to have the operation in place as soon as possible, if it is to deter the traffickers’ and smugglers’ organisations,” she said. 

The cost of the operation is estimated at around €11.82 million for a two-month start-up phase plus an initial mandate of 12 months.

The operation will have its headquarters in Rome and be run by an Italian rear admiral, Enrico Credendino, with an initial year-long mandate.

Mogherini did not delve into the “boots on the ground” option to destroy smugglers’ assets, outlined in an EU strategy paper leaked before this week’s summit. 

The plan has come under intense scrutiny with the internationally recognised Libyan government has warned against a military intervention, shedding doubt on whether this would achieve the desired result. 

Libya’s UN envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi expressed deep reservations about the European plan, pointing out that Libyan fishermen’s livelihoods could be at risk as their vessels might get destroyed during such operations, which totally depend on intelligence gathered by foreign operatives. 

Dabbashi cautioned “it will be very difficult to distinguish between fishermen and trafficking boats. It could be disastrous for fishermen.”

Moreover, on Monday, the Italian coastguards who are often protagonists in rescue missions in the southern Mediterranean also voiced their concern about the EU’s strategy, arguing that military operations will not stop migration to Europe and calling instead for European navies to prioritise search-and-rescue missions.

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