Friday

18th Oct 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.

Belgium's EU nominee still embroiled in legal feud

Cache of 18 secret documents and allegations of death threats in fresh legal complaint surrounding Belgium's EU nominee, Didier Reynders, shortly after a low-level prosecutor cleared his name.

EU sides with Google in data protection case

The European Commission suggests the French data protection watchdog overstretched its remit to make Google delist names on a global scale from search query results, as part of the 'right to be forgotten' rule in the EU's data protection regulation.

News in Brief

  1. Commission: Facebook's Libra needs international approach
  2. Italian PM: denial of accession talks a 'historic mistake'
  3. Catalan president blames clashes on 'infiltrators'
  4. US imposes €6.7bn new tariffs on European products
  5. G7: Libra should not operate until all risks addressed
  6. Kurds agree with US-Turkey ceasefire but not safe-zone
  7. US to host 2020 G7 summit at Trump golf club
  8. Turkey's pension fund buys stake in Finnish defence firm

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. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us