German participation in anti-trafficking mission advocated

British naval vessels are expected to play a substantial role in counter-smuggling missions. [UK Ministry of Defence/Flickr]

In October, the EU will start using military resources to hunt down human traffickers. Germany’s foreign affairs minister has called upon Berlin to participate in the effort. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) has strongly advocated German participation in the second phase of the EU’s military mission in the Mediterranean. “Europe cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a mass grave for refugees,” Steinmeier told Spiegel Online on Tuesday (8 September). “We cannot leave people trying to make the crossing to their fate.”

Over the weekend, EU defence and foreign ministers laid the groundwork for the expansion of the military operation against traffickers. Until now, the operation has been limited to rescue missions. In October, refugee smugglers will be actively hunted, and the vessels used will be seized. The German army, the Bundeswehr, requires a mandate from the German parliament, the Bundestag, in order to participate. According to reports, this should be issued on 3 or 4 October, with operations commencing shortly afterwards.

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Speaking on behalf of the government, Steinmeier called upon the Bundeswehr to provide two further warships for the mission. The minister told Spiegel, “It is right that Germany will participate further in this joint mission.” It is essential, he added, “that we do what we can at sea to hinder the activities of these gangs and show our commitment to action”. Stopping the people smugglers completely is not expected. Rather, the aim of the mission is “to hinder the unrestricted movement in international waters of the people smugglers”.

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After the death of an estimated 700 migrants off the Libyan coast, the EU adopted a three-stage plan in May, with the aim of combatting criminal trafficking. Currently, the first phase is still in operation, in which information regarding the people-smuggling network is being collected. Germany is already participating in this operation and has provided two ships that have been responsible for rescuing many refugees. The second phase should commence in October.

Under this part of the plan, ships being used to traffic people will be seized and destroyed, with the smugglers themselves being arrested. Marine units will not be deployed in Libyan waters, as this would require a UN resolution, which for several months has not been forthcoming.

After recent military planning, the EU wants to deploy seven warships, submarines, drones and aircraft against the smugglers, while using an aircraft carrier as a base of operations. On 16 September, a meeting will be held in which member states will decide how many personnel and how much materiel they will commit.

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