Thursday

12th Dec 2019

EU still angling for UN permit on migrant operation

  • (Photo: Sozialfotografie)

EU states haven’t given up on UN backing for their migrant boat “disposal” operation, as ministers launched a preliminary version of the project on Monday (22 June).

The UN resolution is “still in the cooking”, Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, whose country held the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in May, told EUobserver in Bratislava on Saturday.

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He noted the EU has softened the language of its UNSC draft in a bid to win support from veto-holders China and Russia: “We’re no longer talking about ‘destroying’ ships but about ship ‘disposal’.”

He added the Libyan authorities in Tobruk, the UN-recognised faction in the fragmented country, might also give permission for EU navies to attack smugglers’ assets on its coasts and in its territorial waters.

“When I talked myself with the Libyan [UN] ambassador, my feeling was it’s possible to reach some solution. It’s simply important to involve them in spite of the messy situation [in Libya], which is natural if you want to do something on their soil”, he said.

“There are more problems, maybe, with the Chinese and the Russians”.

Linkevicius spoke after EU countries’ ambassadors, last week, gave the green light for foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, to launch EUnavfor Med.

The ministers endorsed the mission as an "A-point", with no debate.

But without UN or Libyan approval the operation will be limited to intelligence-sharing and surveillance operations only.

"The early phases of the operation will begin right away", British foreign minister Philip Hammond said.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini noted: “There are things we can do in international waters. We can begin already”.

Human shields

EUobserver spoke to the Lithuanian minister in the margins of Globsec, an annual security congress in Bratislava.

For his part, a senior Italian military contact, who asked not to be named, told this website there’s little faith in military circles that EUnavfor Med will make a difference.

He said China and Russia are unlikely to bow to EU demands because they recall how the EU and the US, in 2011, used a “generous” interpretation of a UN mandate on protection of civilians to help bring down Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

“Even if they do agree, the operation is unlikely to succeed”, he noted.

“When it comes to destroying smugglers’ boats, they’ll simply put migrants on them, even when they’re at anchor, to act as human shields”.

He pointed out the Libyan authorities in Tobruk don’t have control of coastal areas where most migrant embarkations take place.

He said authorities in other zones are unlikely to co-operate because local chiefs make too much money from smuggling.

He also noted that when Albanian migrants, in the 1990s, began crossing the Adriatic Sea en masse to Italy, the Italian navy, operating with a full legal mandate in a much smaller maritime zone, were unable to stop them.

Quotas

The Globsec event coincided with World Refugee Day on Saturday.

The other part of the EU’s migrant plan is a European Commission proposal to redistribute asylum seekers from Greece and Italy based on member states’ wealth.

EU commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans, and three of his colleagues, in a joint statement urged EU countries to show “solidarity and responsibility” by offering “protection to those in need”.

Rights activists in several major cities, including Berlin, Paris, and Rome, the same day held rallies calling for a more humane EU intervention.

The Slovak president, Andrej Kiska, in his keynote Globsec speech, also said “we [Slovakia] have the possibility, and as a successful country, also the moral duty, to help”.

Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million, under the commission’s quota, is to take in just 785 asylum seekers.

Racism

But a right-wing Slovak group, called Stop the Islamisation of Europe, on Saturday blocked traffic in Bratislava, when some 3,500 of its supporters held a rally with racist banners, such as “multiculturalism equals genocide”.

The protesters burned an EU flag and destroyed police cars, prompting some 140 arrests. They also attacked a Saudi family, with a small child, at the city’s train station.

Despite Kiska’s speech, the Slovak PM, Robert Fico, together with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, one day earlier, signed a joint memo pledging to oppose the EU quota plan.

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