EU members states have authorized a military crackdown against people traffickers in the Mediterranean, after a weekend meeting in Brussels.
Approximately 100,000 illegal migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, most landing in Italy, Greece and Malta which all want their fellow EU members to share in controlling the flow.
According to one EU diplomat “Everything is now in place” so that EU foreign ministers meeting today (Monday) can approve beginning of operations.
Apparently EU member states have promised to provide ships and aircraft to allow an initial intelligence-gathering phase to start.
Forced to take action in April after the loss of some 800 illegal migrants when their “rickety” boat sank off the southern Italian coast, EU leaders met at an emergency summit to draw up a comprehensive plan to strike at the source of the problem.
As well as increasing search and rescue efforts, the summit asked EU foreign chief Federica Mogherini, to come up with military options against the traffickers who exploit the thousands of people looking to get to Europe illegally by crossing the Mediterranean.
The second phase of the crack down is supposed to see the boarding of ships in the Mediterranean, arresting the traffickers and disabling the vessels, followed by a third phase which would extend similar actions in Libyan territorial waters and possibly inside the country itself.
Britain and France favor moving quickly to Phase 2 and 3, but other EU nations are not so sure about direct involvement in Libya where rival factions are battling for control and the internationally-recognized government has set up in Benghazi after fleeing the capital Tripoli.
To smooth over these fears the EU April summit decided that Phase 2 and 3 would go ahead only under Libyan consent and a resolution from the five member UN Security Council (UNSC).
A senior EU official who wanted to remain anonymous said permanent UNSC member Russia wants “a clear Libyan consent” which the EU is working towards.
“We are rather optimistic that in the end there will be a UNSC resolution to go on with the other phases; there is no absolute certitude but there is a very good prospect,” the official said.
The European Commission has proposed that 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers who have arrived in Europe should be redistributed and that 20,000 Syrians living in camps outside Europe should be resettled across the 28-nation bloc.
While many member states say they will help with humanitarian efforts of search and rescue, they are not in favor of accepting more migrants or the EU’s military option.
Migration is a sensitive issue and far-right political parties are using public concerns about an influx of refugees against more established parties.