19th Mar 2018

EU to 'capture and destroy' migrant traffickers' boats

  • Migration is on the top of the EU agenda following recent tragic drownings in the Mediterranean (Photo: Paul Keller)

EU leaders at a summit on Thursday (23 April) are to ask foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to look into setting up a defence mission that would "identify, capture and destroy vessels" before they are used by human traffickers to bring migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

According to draft conclusions of the summit - called in response to the hundreds of migrants who died last weekend trying to reach the EU - member states want to try to "disrupt trafficking networks, bring the perpetrators to justice and seize their assets".

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The EU's police agency will asked to "detect and request removal of internet content used by traffickers to attract migrants and refugees".

"We are determined to destroy their business model," said an EU official briefing on the summit earlier Wednesday.

Mogherini, for her part, is to be tasked to "immediately begin preparations for a possible CSDP (common security and defence operation)" to destroy boats that could be used by traffickers.

This will not be a fully-fledged military operation, said the EU official, but one based on "targeted actions, which have very clear and limited objectives".

While there are several open legal questions about a CSDP mission and the disruption of the trafficking networks remains an undefined policy, one concrete issue likely to come out of Thursday meeting is more money being put towards the problem.

Member states will "at least" double the financial resources of the current operations in the area for 2015 and 2016, according to the draft.

This would allow an increase in the "search and rescue" possibilities of Frontex, the EU's border agency.

However the text does not mention changing Frontex's mandate, with human rights organisations regularly criticising the EU for focusing on protecting its borders rather than dealing with the humanitarian aspect.

The Triton surveillance mission has a monthly budget of around €3m and few physical resources at its disposal.

A large part of the response is to focus on preventing migrants trying to make the crossing in the first place.

The statement suggests increasing support to countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Mali, and Niger to monitor and control the land borders and routes "in order to prevent potential migrants from gaining access to Mediterranean shores".

There is also a plan to deploy European migration liaison officers to keep an eye on flow and to set up a "new return programme for the rapid return of irregular migrants from frontline member states".

5,000 resettled

Under the "reinforcing internal solidarity" headline, there is a suggestion for a "voluntary project on resettlement" which would see "at least 5,000" place for persons "qualifying for protection".

The careful language reflects the sensitivity of the issue for several governments, many of who are fearful of anti-immigrant sentiment at home.

National politicians in the past have resisted all attempts at discussion on handing control to the EU on how many asylum seekers should be settled in member states - how the 5,000 would be distributed among countries is likely to be a thorny issue on Thursday.

Member states have also strongly resisted attempts for a major reform of the current system which sees the countries that are the first point of entry to the EU for migrants - such as Italy and Greece - obliged to process their asylum claims.

So the draft language on considering "organising emergency relocation between member states" is also likely to be controversial.

EU leaders skirt asylum rules debate

Almost two years have gone by since EU heads of state first declared their “determination to reduce the risk of further tragedies” following the drowning deaths of over 300 migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

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