The EU launched a naval operation against human traffickers in the Mediterranean today (22 June). Dubbed “EUNAVFOR Med” its mission is to identify, capture and dispose of vessels used to smuggle refugees to Europe.
According to the official announcement, EUNAVFOR Med will be conducted in three phases, in full compliance with international law, including humanitarian and refugee law and human rights. The first phase focuses on surveillance and the assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean.
The second stage of the operation will entail the search and, if necessary, seizure of suspicious vessels. The third phase will involve the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers.
The Council will assess when to move beyond the first phase of the operation, taking into account a UN mandate which has yet to be adopted, and the consent of the coastal states concerned. The subsequent phases will be conducted accordingly.
As EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said, countries from throughout the EU will provide military assets for the operation.
“It is probably the first time that the EU takes the issue of migration so seriously, in such a fast way and with unanimity and unity,” she said.
Mogherini reiterated that less than two months ago, EU leaders tasked the Commission with preparing an operation in the Mediterranean to save lives and disrupt human traffickers (see background). The operation is launched today, she said, insisting that its target is not immigrants, but those who make money with their lives and “too often with their deaths”:
“With this operation, we are targeting the business model of those who benefit from the misery of migrants. But it’s 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. As (the) EU, we are determined to contribute to save lives, dismantle the networks of the smugglers of human beings and address the root causes of migration.”
The first phase covers information gathering and patrolling on the high seas to support the detection and monitoring of smugglers’ networks, Mogherini said.
The Operations Headquarter of EUNAVFOR Med is in Rome. Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino has been appointed Operation Commander and will be assisted at sea by Force Commander Rear Admiral Andrea Gueglio. The common costs of the operation are estimated at €11.82 million for a two months start-up phase and an initial mandate of 12 months.
But Mogherini said that this initiative was part of a bigger effort to address the reasons which are pushing people into perilous immigration. She said that this is why she had met the foreign ministers of the Sahel countries last week (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad), that work would continue later this year with a special migration summit in Malta between the EU, the African Union and other key countries, and that the EU was working in particulat with the African countries on economic development, employment opportunities for the young people and the control of borders.
“This naval operation is part of a broader external strategy on migration. The external part of our work is effective only if it is in conjunction with an effective internal strategy, because when these desperate people knock on our door, we cannot avoid the question how to welcome them here in Europe,” she said.
Mogherini added that this was not only an issue for the foreign ministers, but also for the EU summit later this week.