26 June 2015

On 22 June, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers launched the EUNAVFOR Med, “to disrupt human smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean”. For an initial mandate of one year, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, the UK, Luxemburg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, Sweden and Finland, will monitor and patrol the Southern Central Mediterranean, initially gathering intelligence, followed by providing assessments of human smuggling and trafficking networks.

According to the press release, it will be necessary to secure a mandate from the UN’s Security Council, together with the consent of Libya and those coastal states concerned, so that the EUNAVFOR Med could “search and, if necessary, seizure vessels suspected of smuggling migrants”. The launch of the next – ‘third’- phase would allow for “the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers.”

When the EU announced its intention to establish the operation, Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General, pointed out that “the most efficient method of shutting down smugglers – a goal we agree with – is to eliminate the need for their services by providing safe and legal channels to Europe.” He said a military operation might lead to more deaths.

On the day of the operation, launched this week, the Financial Times quoted an unnamed EU official, warning that the military operation created the risk of collateral casualties. “Of course it would,” he said. 

Aspasia Papadopoulou, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer, commented during a debate in the European Parliament last week: “The military operation proposed by the EU shows a wrong understanding of how smuggling networks and migratory flows work”. In fact, the EUNAVFOR Med’s effectiveness has been questioned by many commentators. In the last few days, Fabrice Leggeri, the Director of Frontex, noted: “If there is a military operation in the vicinity of Libya, this may change the migration routes and make them move to the eastern route.”

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU, said “the targets are not the migrants but those who are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths. It is part of our efforts to save lives”. Furthermore, she added, the military operation is “only a part of a broader strategy, including the cooperation with our partners in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, and the work with the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR.” However, on other proposals put forward by the European Commission, namely on relocation of asylum seekers across Member States, the EU countries remains strongly divided.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.