By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 24 April 2015:
France is to ask the UN for permission to destroy the stock of vessels belonging to . . .[restrict]people-smugglers, while the budget for the EU’s Triton border patrols is to be trebled.
EU leaders this evening finished an emergency meeting in Brussels with these two headline agreements but without accord on other key measures urged on them by human rights organisations.
The initiative by French president Francois Hollande to seek a UN mandate for EU naval forces to seek and destroy smugglers’ boats before they can be filled with migrants is clearly the most controversial. If the Security Council accedes to the request there is a clear risk both of mistakes – the destruction of wholly innocent fishing vessles – and of mission-creep which could lead to engagements between Libyan patrol craft and EU enforcers.
Virtually all the migrant boats leaving Libya set off from territory controlled by Libya Dawn. Hence the concern earlier today from Mohamed Al-Gheirani, who holds the foreign affairs portfolio in the antigovernment, that innocent people could be killed. He also bemoaned the failure of the EU to respond to Dawn’s offer earlier this week to work with Brussels, provided it was given resources, and thus de facto recognition as a rival to the government in Beida.
By bringing the funding for Triton to up €120m a year, Brussels will be spending the same as the Italians for their Mare Nostrum patrols, which they abandoned last year because of the cost. Some EU member states, including the UK, had dismissed the Italian operation as ill-conceived, since they believed that it served to encourage the people smugglers to push ever more migrants out into the Mediterranean in unseaworthy craft .
The British have reversed their support for this point of view. The helicopter carrier HMS Bulwark, currently on a goodwill call in Istanbul, will shortly be patrolling off the Libyan coast, deploying two patrol boats and three helicopters. Germany, France and Belgium were among those states that also offered ships and aircraft. Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting that the Triton operation should be given whatever funds were needed.
London has however not moved on its refusal to accept migrants scooped up by EU patrols. It was also clear that British premier David Cameron was one of the EU leaders who insisted that migrants be screened and fingerprinted. He had broken off from an extremely tight general election campaign, where immigration is a burning issue, to come to Brussels. Those migrants who had arrived in Europe for purely economic reasons should be repatriated. Only those refugees who could demonstrate they would be persecuted or killed if they were sent home, should be granted political asylum.
The fine detail of the new beefed-up Triton patrols have yet to be fixed. Clearly much will depend on the granting of a UN mandate to use military force against people-smuggling craft. Libya, as the main point of embarkation, has been running out of vessels. The human traffickers have been buying in decrepit craft largely from Egypt and Tunisia. It may be that EU patrols will seek to intercept these vessels before they can reach Libya and their waiting human cargoes.
The EU leaders also agreed to seek to identify, track down and prosecute the people smugglers themselves and to send immigration officers to non-EU countries .
The ten-point action plan drafted earlier in the week ahead of today’s meeting was leaked and widely criticised as being inadequate. As EU leaders headed home this evening, Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino characterised the agreement as “a wasted opportunity, with a lot of fanfare and no result”. She said that she was really disappointed.
Earlier in the day, a joint funeral for 24 of the some 830 migrants who drowned in a single capsizing last week was held in Malta. No one appeared to be questioning the right of these migrants to stay in European soil. [/restrict]