Wednesday

8th Jul 2020

EU to target migrant smugglers

  • Triton, run by the EU's border agency Frontex, will have its monthly budget tripled to around €9 million (Photo: Frontex)

EU leaders on Thursday (23 April) declared war on migrant smugglers and promised to triple the monthly budget of the EU’s sea surveillance mission, Triton.

But broader efforts to address politically sensitive issues on a better distribution of asylum seekers and refugees largely fell to the wayside as leaders instead placed emphasis on giving the EU's surveillance mission Triton more cash, more boats, and more planes.

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  • The boat busting operation, entirely separate from Triton, would be led by the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

EU president Donald Tusk following the summit’s conclusion briefed reporters saying that “saving lives is not just about rescuing people at sea, it is also about stopping the smugglers.”

This means Triton’s mandate won’t be changed to have a broad search and rescue mission but will remain primarily focused on surveillance and limited to patrolling Italy’s coastal waters.

The decision is set to disappoint aid organisations and the European Parliament who have called for an fully-fledged search and rescue on par with Italy’s now defunct Mare Nostrum naval operation.

"When people are dying right in front of our eyes, human decency demands that we hold out our hand to save them," said European parliament president Martin Schulz, with around 1,700 people already thought to have drowned this year alone.

More money for Triton

Thursday’s hastily convened summit was called in response to those deaths after the European commission proposed a ten-point plan for immediate action earlier in the week.

Triton, which is led by the EU’s border agency Frontex, is now set to get around €9 million a month from the EU budget for the rest of the year and well into 2016.

The surveillance mission currently has four fixed-wing aircraft, one helicopter, four open-shore and one coastal patrol vessels, and two patrol boats.

Its inventory is set for a big increase following pledges by member states to boost the number of military assets.

UK navy flagship

The UK is sending its navy flagship HMS Bulwark, which according to one UK source, won’t be limited to Triton’s 30 nautical mile range.

“[Bulwark] will go where it is needed,” he said, noting the boat could be deployed within a week. Britain also agreed to double to €1 million a year the amount money it contributes to Triton.

Germany, for its part, is offering ten ships and one naval vessel.

France said it will give three experts, an F-406 surveillance plane for 15 days in September, and a patrol boat for 30 days in November.

Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Sweden and others have also made pledges.

'Identify, capture and destroy'

Declarations made throughout the day by EU leaders to save more lives at sea have also resulted, in part, to a planned mission “to identify, capture, and destroy” migrant vessels “before they are used by traffickers.”

The terminology “before they are used by traffickers” led to suggestions that boats could be destroyed at port or on land. But one EU official dismissed the idea, noting that the boats would be sunk out at sea and possibly within Libyan waters.

The boat busting operation, entirely separate from Triton, would be led by the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

The plan still requires either a mandate from United Nation’s security council or a special request from Libya.

Both possibilities pose a number of problems.

For one, Libya has no functioning government to prove such a request. Second, a senior EU diplomat told reporters he is doubtful Russia, which sits on the UN’s security council, would ever agree to it.

French president Francois Hollande, for his part, plans on discussing the issue with Vladimir Putin when they meet in Armenia’s capital Yerevan on Friday.

Refugees

The lucrative trade is already feeling a squeeze as more and more boats used by the smugglers are either lost at sea or never recovered.

Meanwhile tricky issues like relocating refugees, despite making it into the final council conclusion, was barely discussed.

Governments had initially floated the idea of taking in 5,000 but then dropped the figure altogether.

Germany’s Angela Merkel said the EU didn't agree to a figure for the resettlement pilot project "because we felt that 5,000 would not be sufficient.”

The EU hosts some 36,000 Syrian refugees of which around 30,000 are in Germany alone.

Germany also received more than 200,000 asylum applications last year, one third of all those made in the EU. Germany, Sweden, Italy and France fielded nearly two thirds of all asylum applications.

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.

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