Sunday

15th Dec 2019

EU preparing to start migrant operation before UN approval

  • The EU's anti-piracy mission off Somalia, Atalanta, is to be a model for EU Navfor Med (Photo: eunavfor)

The EU is preparing to move ahead on its anti-migrant smuggling operation, EU Navfor Med, in the Mediterranean Sea prior to UN approval, while fretting over the potential loss of life the mission could entail.

A 20-page blueprint, prepared by the EU foreign service ahead of ministers’ talks on Monday (18 May), and seen by EUobserver, notes that intelligence-gathering and “seizure” of ships can begin without a UN Security Council (UNSC) mandate in a “Chapter VII” resolution.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The paper says the EU doesn’t need UN approval to begin surveillance of potential targets (Photo: United Nations Photo)

The paper says the EU doesn’t need the UN’s say-so to start “force generation”, or to task the EU’s satellite centre in Spain and member states’ aircraft to begin surveillance of potential targets.

It notes that “if using assets other than satellites” it would require “host nation approval” from Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia.

It adds that if the smugglers’ ships have a national flag, they can only be seized “with the consent of this [flag-issuing] state”. But they can still be "boarded" and "searched" even without the state's approval.

If they don’t fly any flag, they can be seized “provided that the warship conducting the seizure is so authorised under its own national law”, or boarded and searched “even in the absence of a warship having its own national legal approval”.

The EU foreign service chief, Federica Mogherini, appealed to the UN for a Chapter VII mandate last week, with EU leaders hoping to launch the operation in June.

Russia, a UNSC veto-holder, has voiced opposition.

For his part, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the margins of a Nato meeting in Turkey on Thursday: “My impression is that there is no veto in principal from one of the veto powers in the Security Council”.

But the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a Geneva-based intergovernmental body, has voiced “serious concerns” over the EU military plan.

The UN’s special envoy on migration, former EU commissioner Peter Sutherland, has also warned “innocent refugees”, including children, could be placed “in the line of fire”.

If the EU gets its Chapter VII, it aims to start “destruction of smugglers vessels and assets on the high seas” and in the “sovereign territorial waters” of host states whether or not those countries or the boats’ flag-issuing states agree.

It is to involve: “Boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units”.

It also aims to park warships in Libyan waters in order to “deter” migrant smugglers and traffickers.

It notes, despite Mogherini statements to the contrary, that “a presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities” for the sake of “seizure and/or physical destruction of smuggling-enabling assets (e.g. boats, fuel dumps, embarkation facilities) … at anchor, alongside or ashore”.

Loss of life

The EU blueprint makes it clear that people are likely to get killed.

Echoing the IOM and Sutherland’s concerns, it says: “Non-compliant boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life”.

With no central government in control in Libya, it says: “the existence of heavy military armaments (including coastal artillery batteries) and military capable militias present a robust threat to EU ships and aircraft operating in the vicinity”.

It adds: “The terrorist presence in the region also constitutes a security threat. Action taken ashore could be undertaken in a hostile environment”.

It also warns that: “Any casualties as a result of EU action could trigger a negative response from the local population and the wider region, jeopardising support and follow-up”.

The paper says the operation should initially last one year. But its exit strategy indicates it’s likely to last longer.

The EU paper says it should only be wound down when Libyan authorities “demonstrate sufficient control of the Libyan coast to tackle the smuggling of migrants”.

It adds that “kinetic action along Libyan coasts might oblige smugglers to shift their tactics and change their departure sites, eventually relocating them in neighbouring countries”.

To an extent, the shift is already taking place.

Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU’s Warsaw-based border control agency, Frontex, told the Associated Press on Thursday: "There is a shift from the central Mediterranean to the eastern Mediterranean" as people try to get from Turkey to Greece by sea.

"They are moving very quickly, so we have to be flexible."

Relocation

Meanwhile, the EU operation won’t solve the problem of what to do with rescued migrants.

The paper says there were already 10,237 “illegal border crossing” attempts in the Mediterranean so far this year, while Italy estimates 200,000 people are in Libya waiting to make the attempt.

It notes that under international law, any migrants intercepted by EU vessels “need to be transported or towed in the safest conditions to pre-identified (in subsequent planning) ports of debarkation where local authorities will take the responsibility to care for the survivors an adopt the necessary measures in case of asylum seekers”.

It adds that it’s unclear what the EU should do with any traffickers whom it arrests.

“The arrest of smugglers may be a situation faced by the EU operation. The subsequent issue of management of arrested smugglers requires agreed protocols … which will need to be developed in further planning”.

The European Commission last week unveiled proposals for EU national quotas for asylum seekers in order to relieve the burden on Greece, Italy, and Malta.

The quotas are to be based on GDP, population size, and existing migrant numbers in host countries.

But the plan has met with early criticism from the UK and Hungary.

"There can be no question of Hungary letting in migrants on the basis of the EU's quota," Janos Lazar, prime minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, told press in Budapest on Thursday, AFP reports.

"Hungary will do everything to prevent this plan in Brussels".

Military action underpins EU migration plan

The EU commission has unveiled its migrant quota system, as ministers get set for talks on military operations to destroy migrant smuggler boats in Libya.

Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit

The Dutch prime minister and figures from the European Parliament are both piling on pressure for leaders at the EU summit to discuss the rule of law in Malta, as the presence of the island-nation's prime minister draws protests.

News in Brief

  1. EU Scream podcast wins media award
  2. Sturgeon will set out Scottish independence plan next week
  3. Slovenia, Croatia ex-leaders highlight jailed Catalans
  4. Italian court tells Facebook to reopen fascist party's account
  5. EU extends sanctions on Russia until mid-2020
  6. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  7. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  8. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU values face scrutiny This WEEK
  2. EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK
  3. Huge win for Conservatives in UK election
  4. Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician
  5. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  6. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  7. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  8. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us