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Survivors of multiple tragedies continue to arrive in Sicily. (Photo: Francesco Malavolta/IOM 2015)

Despite Skepticism, Europe Will Employ Military Response to Migration Crisis

According to one official, the operation would be 'civil-military' modeled on previous military action in the Horn of Africa to combat Somali piracy

Deirdre Fulton

Spurred by this weekend's migrant tragedy, in which as many as 900 refugees may have died off the Libyan coast, European leaders agreed Monday not only to expand maritime patrols and search-and-rescue operations in the region—as humanitarian organizations have called for—but also to launch dubious military operations against the networks of smugglers in Libya who facilitate the deadly Mediterranean crossings.

The European Union has been criticized for abdicating its responsibility to address the migrant crisis, setting the stage for disasters like Sunday's boat-capsizing, which the International Organization for Migration is calling "the worst tragedy in living memory involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa."

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday, such tragedies "are the result of a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion."

And International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer said migrant deaths were "a cry to European countries, as the EU Foreign Affairs Council meets in Luxembourg today, to take the necessary humanitarian actions."

But such humanitarian concerns were not at the forefront during Monday's emergency meeting, at which EU interior and foreign ministers sketched a plan for action on migration and human trafficking.

The BBC reports:

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the 10-point package set out at talks in Luxembourg was a "strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies" and "shows a new sense of urgency and political will".

Of the plan to target traffickers through military means, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration issues, said the operation would be "civil-military" modeled on previous military action in the Horn of Africa to combat Somali piracy. The military action would require a UN mandate.

The Guardian reports:

No detail was supplied on the scale and range of the proposed operation, nor of who would take part in it. But European leaders from David Cameron to Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, were emphatic on Monday in singling out the fight against the migrant traffickers as the top priority in the attempt to rein in a crisis that is spiralling out of control.

“[This is] a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the [Somali] operation should inspire us to similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean,” said the European commission.

But there are skeptics, the Guardian adds. One senior EU official reportedly said: "The idea of surgical strikes on traffickers is not very serious. Do they know enough about the traffickers to mount a military operation?"

And the plan hardly seems to address the concerns laid out by the UN's Zeid when he said: "Migrant smugglers are the symptom, not the cause of this wretched situation."

The EU leaders will reportedly meet on Thursday in Brussels to hammer out the details of the measures.

Meanwhile, even as the European officials discussed the crisis on Monday in Luxembourg, reports came in of two or more boats in distress—one with between 150 and 200 migrants on board, the other with 300—and the possibility of many more fatalities. 

According to the IOM, the 2015 migrant death toll now is more than 30 times last year's total at this date, when just 56 deaths of migrants were reported in the Mediterranean.

Survivors of Sunday's capsizing began arriving in Catania, Sicily just before midnight on Monday. Of the 28 survivors, most are from Sub-Saharan Africa from Mali, Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Others are from Bangladesh and Tunisia.

The BBC notes that the Tunisian captain of the wooden fishing boat—who is among the survivors—has been charged with reckless multiple homicide, according to Italian officials. He has also been charged along with a Syrian member of the crew—who also survived the disaster—with "favoring illegal immigration."


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