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22nd Feb 2020

EU countries agree boat-sinking operation

  • Mogherini: 'We have to do something with the human beings we save' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU countries have agreed to launch a military operation to sink migrant smugglers’ boats.

The mission, EU Navfor Med, is to have an HQ in Rome under the command of an Italian admiral, Enrico Credendino, and might start work by the end of June, the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Monday (18 May).

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She noted it’ll begin with intelligence gathering and sharing by participant EU states, who are to start pledging manpower and equipment from Tuesday.

In its second phase, EU countries’ assets will carry out “detection and inspection” of smuggler boats.

Warships will later take up positions, possibly in Libyan waters, to deter smuggling, and, in the final phase, begin to “neutralise” the traffickers’ boats, fuel dumps, and other facilities.

Mogherini noted the latter steps will require a UN Security Council resolution, which is currently being drafted by the UK, as well as permission from Libya.

The country has split into several parts since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Mogherini said its “legitimate” government is the one in Tobruk. But with no national unity deal in sight, she said the EU will also work with rival authorities in Tripoli, in Misrata, and in “municipalities”.

“We’ll need to work together to dismantle these networks, the municipalities will have an important role to play in identifying them”, she noted.

She downplayed concerns that Islamic State is trying to infiltrate the EU by hiding operatives on migrant boats, as voiced earlier on Monday by Nato head Jens Stoltenberg.

She said EU research “cannot confirm any link known to us” of this type. But she warned that income from people smuggling “may be being used for financing terrorist activities”.

The anti-smuggler operation was ordered by EU leaders at an emergency summit last month when almost 1,000 people drowned in a single incident.

Mogherini said it’s “a record” for the EU to move so quickly.

EU leaders at the time also asked the European Commission to come up with a broader migration plan.

But the commission’s central idea, to impose national quotas on migrant relocation, isn’t going down well.

Mogherini defended the commission proposal on Monday, saying there's political will to act on “sharing of the burden” and that the quotas do not amount to an “open door policy” on immigration.

“They [the EU leaders] did invite the commission to come forward with a proposal”, she said.

“There’s an awareness on the part of member states that … we have to do something with the human beings we save”.

EU set for new Libya naval mission

Foreign ministers reached a political agreement to create a new EU naval force to replace Operation Sophia. It aims to enforce an UN arms embargo on Libya and operate in area where migrants do not take boats.

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