At a meeting in Brussels on Friday, June 19, EU ministers approved plans to launch the first stage of a military intervention against refugee and migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean.
The first phase, which includes intelligence gathering by EU member states, is expected to officially start today, Monday, June 22. The second phase is anticipated to involve an active military intervention, including boarding and disabling trafficking vessels and arresting suspected smugglers. The third phase will push the intervention into Libyan territorial waters and possibly into the country itself.
Some EU member states have expressed concern about getting militarily enmeshed in Libya, as rival Libyan factions battle for control over the country. At an emergency summit meeting in April, which was called after an estimated 800 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, EU member states agreed they would only take action on Libyan territory after obtaining consent from the official government, which has fled Tripoli due to ongoing fighting.
Libya’s acting prime minister, Khalifa al-Ghweil, told The Independent that the EU has yet to consult his government about its plans. Comparing Europe’s proposed military action to the “colonial mentality” of Libya’s 20th century Italian occupiers, he stated: “They can’t come to control us, we can’t return to the era of 1911, foreigners deciding things. We have the ability to defend our sea and our land, as we had shown in our history and also during our revolution.”
As is quickly becoming clear, the EU’s mission is more about placating rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe than saving refugees and migrants from abuse by traffickers and potential death at sea. In a nineteen-page strategy document obtained by The Guardian earlier this month, the EU acknowledged that “boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life.”
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, told The Guardian: “Introducing measures to tackle smugglers without providing safe alternative routes out for the people desperate to flee conflict in Libya will not resolve the plight of migrants and refugees.”