Friday

23rd Aug 2019

EU border chief wants protection from armed smugglers

The EU’s border agency Frontex wants military protection from armed migrant smugglers as it expands operations in the Mediterranean and closer to the Libyan coast.

Two incidents in February and April saw smugglers brandish their Kalashnikov rifles at boarder guards and migrants during the agency's Triton surveillance mission.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Traffickers operate with impunity in war-torn Libya (Photo: AslanMedia)

Fabrice Leggeri, who heads the Warsaw-based agency, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (28 May) that the incidents were provoked when boarder guards attempted to seize the boats used by the migrants.

“The incidents that happened in February and April were in fact incidents because the smugglers wanted to get back the boats that the border guard wanted to seize,” he said.

Leggeri noted that the incident in February involved some 300 migrants who had already boarded the Triton ship.

“If you have 300 migrants on board and there is a shooting, then anything can happen,” he said.

The warning comes as the EU plans to launch next month EU Navfor Med, a naval assault against migrant smugglers.

The military campaign, separate but linked to Frontex, wants to seize and sink the boats as part of a larger effort to undercut the smugglers “business model”.

Documents prepared by the EU’s foreign policy service on the naval assault say there is “a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life”.

Asked if the armed naval presence may escalate tensions and further endanger the lives of migrants and civilians on board Triton, Leggeri said “it is difficult to assess military action in the Libyan waters”.

Instead, he noted that the February and April incidents did not result in any death because the boarder guards opted not to engage.

Don't shoot

“It seemed the wisest reaction was not to shoot and not react because otherwise we might have causalities on board,” he said.

But the real risk of death and other possible disasters is a headache for EU policy-makers.

EU defence ministers in a leaked document from last week noted “a risk to EU reputation” if “loss of life be attributed, correctly or incorrectly, to action or inaction by the EU force”.

There is no clear line yet on who will protect Triton but Leggeri said it will depend on the daily management of the operation.

It is also not yet clear if the military boats will disembark migrants onto Triton vessels at sea or bring them ashore in Italy.

In either case, Frontex is setting up a regional base in Sicily where teams will help locals try to identify the disembarked migrants.

Frontex gets bigger

Meanwhile, Frontex has seen its mandate, staff and budget increase since some 800 migrants drowned last April. The agency can now, for instance, organise joint-return flights for any migrant that has no chance of getting asylum.

The 800 drownings sparked an emergency meeting of defence and foreign ministers and a ten-point action plan from the European Commission, followed by an EU summit in late April.

The result means some €26 million extra will be pumped into the Frontex budget for 2015 alone.

The cash will back Triton Mediterranean operations as well as Poseidon along the borders with Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria.

Frontex will get another €45 million in 2016 for its Mediterranean operations.

“This means a huge increase in budget,” said Leggeri.

It will also operate up to 80 nautical miles from the Libyan coast but is likely to approach much closer whenever called to rescue boat migrants. Most rescues take place between 30 to 40 nautical miles from the coast.

The sea mission now has four aircraft, six offshore patrol vessels, 12 patrol boats, two helicopters, nine debriefing teams, and six screening teams.

Last year, some 170,000 people crossed from Libya into Italy on the so-called central Mediterranean route. Around 70,000 of those were either Syrians or Eritrean nationals fleeing war and persecution.

Both nationalities, if they reach the European shores alive, have an over 70 percent high chance of obtaining asylum.

Interview

UN calls for EU 'courage' on immigration

The UN special envoy on migration has urged EU leaders to show more “courage” in the face of growing “nationalism” in Europe.

Investigation

EU may extend 'passenger name records' to rail and sea

Documents reveal that EU states are considering broadening requirements on keeping passenger records, currently only applicable to air carriers, to providers of other modes of transport.

UK taking 'steps' after illegal copying of EU Schengen data

According to a classified report, the UK made illegal copies of EU security data, and its disregard for EU rules on handling such data was a "serious and immediate risk". The Commission now says "practical steps" have since been taken.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us