The recent tragic events in the Mediterranean that cost the lives of hundreds of illegal immigrants has mobilised the European Union and forced Brussels to take action.
According to the website EU Observer, the European Union is getting ready to start an anti-migrant smuggling operation in the Mediterranean in order to stop the trafficking of people by ruthless smugglers, prior to United Nations approval.
According to the author of the article, Andrew Rettman, a 20-page blueprint has been prepared by the European Union Foreign Service several days before the meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday May 18 to discuss options for the use of military force against smuggling networks.
The European Union paper notes that intelligence-gathering and seizure of ships can begin without a United Nations Security Council mandate in a Chapter VII resolution, although the European Union Foreign Service chief, Federica Mogherini, appealed last week to the UN for a Chapter VII mandate, hoping to launch the operation in June.
The paper mentions that the European Union does not need the permission of the UN to start surveillance of potential targets using European satellites, but it notes that, “if using assets other than satellites” it would require “host nation approval” from Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia.
The 20-page blueprint mentions that, “if the smugglers’ ships have a national flag, they can only be seized with the consent of this [flag-issuing] state, but they can still be boarded and searched even without the state’s approval”.
If the vessels of the smugglers do not fly a flag, they can be seized “provided that the warship conducting the seizure is so authorized under its own national law”, or boarded and searched “even in the absence of a warship having its own national legal approval”.
As soon as the European Union receives the approval of the United Nations for the anti-migrant smuggling operation European warships will patrol in Libyan waters in order to deter migrant smugglers.
Furthermore these warships will seek and destroy the vessels of the smugglers and their assets in the high seas, as well as in the sovereign territorial waters of host states, regardless of whether those states, or those issuing the boats’ flags agree.
The European Union naval operation will involve boarding teams, patrol units, amphibious assets, air, land and sea forces and also includes special forces units. The operation, according to the draft, should initially last one year but according to the article its exit strategy indicates it is likely to last longer.
The most important note of the paper is that throughout the operation, there is a possibility of the loss of lives. According to the 20-page blueprint “Non-compliant boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage, including the loss of life”.
As the 20-page blueprint notices, “The existence of heavy military armaments (including coastal artillery batteries) and military capable militias present a robust threat to European Union ships and aircraft operating in the vicinity” while, “The terrorist presence in the region also constitutes a security threat. Action taken ashore could be undertaken in a hostile environment”.
It also warns that: “Any casualties as a result of European Union action could trigger a negative response from the local population and the wider region, jeopardizing support and follow-up”.
The European Union paper says that the situation will improve only when Libyan authorities, “demonstrate sufficient control of the Libyan coast to tackle the smuggling of migrants”.
Finally the paper gives a warning concerning a recent development regarding the policies of the smugglers.
It mentions that the presence of European Union warships along the Libyan coast “might oblige smugglers to shift their tactics and change their departure sites, eventually relocating them in neighboring countries” – something already appears to be underway since Frontex told the Associated Press last Thursday that: “There is a shift from the central Mediterranean to the eastern Mediterranean as people try to get from Turkey to Greece by sea”.