The European Union has approved a policy to utilize military force in an effort to stem the flow of migrants currently seeking to cross the Mediterranean to refuge in Europe. Thousands of migrants, may of whom come from conflict zones such as Iraq and Syria, are landing on European shores in precarious vessels. Some do not reach their intended destination: this year, at least 1,800 perished on the way. Many of the dead drowned in the attempt. Human rights groups have criticized the plan. For example, the International Organization for Migration claimed last week that “inherent risk that military actions, however, laudable, could further endanger migrant lives.” For its part, Amnesty International warned that the EU plan “could lead to thousands of migrants and refugees being trapped in a conflict zone.” It called for Egypt and Tunisia to open their respective borders to migrants seeking to leave behind abuse in Libya.
In April 2014, Europe tripled funding for a maritime patrols when a search-and-rescue mission that had been credited with saving more than 100,000 lives was discontinued at the end of 2014. There have been spectacular losses of life among migrants. For example, 850 migrants drowned when a single vessel sank in April, just a week after a similar disaster yielded approximately 400 such deaths.
Human rights organizations are concerned that efforts to stop human traffickers by the military could make unintended victims. One of the measures being considered by the EU is the destruction of the leaky vessels used by the traffickers. Muslim terrorist groups active in the western sector of Libya have expressed hostility to European military operations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is hopeful that the intended operations will push the UN into action. “I think that after we take the decision today, it is more likely for the Security Council to take a resolution.” She is confident that the Libyan government and Muslim terrorists will cooperate with the EU: “We are looking for partnership in this.”
The May 18 decision will bring about naval operations that have been planned for more than a month. The aim of the EU is to destroy the traffickers’ vessels before they leave the shores of North Africa. UN Security Council approval will be necessary, however. The body began discussions on the issue last week at UN headquarters. Security Council member Russia has expressed reservations about deploying European military vessels into the waters near Libya.
Libya is currently scarred by war between the internationally recognized government based in the east and Muslim terrorist groups in the west. The oil-rich country has been a conflict zone ever since the fall of dictator Muammar Kaddafi in 2012.
The EU will first conduct intelligence gathering on the migrants and traffickers while also preparing the ships and materiel needed. Since the EU itself has no military, the operation will depend on pledges of cooperation from member countries. This has stymied previous such efforts. The government of Italy is the most keen on the operation, as is Spain, since they are the two that receive the greatest number of migrants who land on their shores. The operation is expected to cost at least $13 million during the initial phase of 60 days of an operation that will last for at least 12 months. The European Commission has called for a system of equitable distribution of refugees among the 28 member states so as to alleviate the burden being shouldered by Italy, for example. However, the United Kingdom and France have declared that their governments will not hold to a quota system.
In a press release, the European Council declared that the EUNAVFOR Med operation will be conducted according to international law. The total cost is expected to surpass $13 million. Operation headquarters will be in Rome, while Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino has been appointed as Operation Commander.
Unlike the EU, NATO does have a military force that can be brought to bear. On May 18, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the body is “ready to help if there is a request.” Stoltenberg averred that illegal immigration is indeed a threat to the overall security of Europe since there is a substantial risk that Muslim terrorists may be among those seeking asylum in European terroritory. “One of the problems is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists, also trying to hide, to blend in,” said Stoltenberg.
The political ramifications of illegal immigration, and security forces’ response, are enormous in Europe. Humanitarian organizations and the Catholic Church have called for leniency in the treatment of migrants, even while some critics contend that those coming to Europe on haphazard vessels are merely economic migrants. In 2014, more than 50,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, Greece, Malta, Spain who seek to further into Europe where social welfare schemes are more generous. In France, for example, truckers seeking to cross from the Continent to Great Britain via the Chunnel that goes beneath the English Channel have been assaulted by migrants seeking to hitch rides. Immigrant detention centers operated by Italy, for example, are beyond capacity: Italy has complained that it has taken the brunt of the crisis. And in Spain’s two North African possessions - the cities of Ceuta and Melilla – migrants are climbing thirty foot double fences topped by razor wire in order to achieve asylum on Spain territory. So far, at least 1,800 migrants have died while trying to cross the Med: which is equivalent to about 20 times the number who died at this time in 2014. Christians fleeing Islamist terror in Africa and the Mideast are joined by Muslims and East Asians seeking a better life.
Political movements such as the National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece are gaining ground in Europe because of their anti-immigration stance.