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23rd Jan 2022

UK sends warship to EU anti-smuggler operation

  • HMS Richmond in the Persian Gulf (Photo: Daniel Barker)

The UK is sending another warship to help the EU in its operations to stop human smuggling in the Mediterranean.

The HMS Richmond is to move from the Suez Canal area to near Libya for at least two months, joining the existing eight vessels in EUnavfor Med, an EU anti-smuggler operation.

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The British immigration minister, James Brokenshire, told a House of Lords committee on Wednesday (16 September) that the warship will mainly be used for surveillance operations.

“It has additional surveillance and reconnaissance capability … including the ScanEagle, an unmanned aerial system which can cover vast areas. It’s that type of contribution it’s able to offer”, he said.

The frigate carries 185 personnel, a helicopter, and anti-ship missiles.

It is to join two other British ships already in EUnavfor Med, the HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.

The new deployment comes as EUnavfor Med prepares to begin intercepting and boarding migrant vessels in international waters.

The EU foreign service is drafting rules of engagement for the action, which is to start in mid-October.

Brokenshire told the House of Lords that if EU navies apprehend suspected smugglers or traffickers they will be taken to the “nearest safe port in Europe” and face “prosecutorial action in that country”.

“We can’t tolerate having criminality on the shores of the EU … it’s appropriate to use military assets to support the [EU] mission”, he added.

Internal borders

Turning to internal EU borders, he said that British authorities are in touch with Belgium and the Netherlands to stop irregular migrants trying to cross on ferries.

The Belgian-Dutch route opened up after the UK and France clamped down on Channel Tunnel security.

Brokenshire said organised crime groups in Europe treat migrants as a “commodity”, like cigarettes or narcotics.

He said British police, working with the EU’s joint police body, Europol, secured 48 convictions on human smuggling between April and August.

He said Europol is crucial in terms of intelligence-sharing.

He also said Europol might launch “joint investigative teams”, composed of subsets of EU states, to go after cross-border smuggling gangs in future.

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