BRUSSELS: EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Thursday will consider launching a military operation against human traffickers in Libya, in a bold effort to halt the deadly flow of refugees trying to reach Europe by sea.
As survivors laid bare the full horror of last weekend’s catastrophic shipwreck near Libya, a draft statement for the summit seen by AFP committed leaders to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers.”
The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini “is invited to immediately begin preparations for a possible security and defense policy operation to this effect, in accordance with international law,” the draft added.
A diplomatic source said EU members were preparing to approve the statement, reflecting the union’s readiness to take more decisive action against people smugglers, who pack rickety boats to overflying with people fleeing conflict and hardship in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Monday evoked the possibility of “targeted interventions” against the Libya-based smugglers that would fall short of a full military intervention.
“You can’t be serious about this problem if you don’t take Prime Minister Renzi’s proposals seriously, though you have to go through the legal and operational issues,” said a senior European official on the condition of anonymity.
If approved, the operation would be the first time EU governments used military force to fight illegal migration.
“No one is talking about boots on the ground,” a diplomatic source cautioned, adding that a potential requirement for UN backing would depend on the reach of the mission. “This isn’t a war.”
EU leaders go into Thursday’s summit under huge pressure to both check the tide of migrants landing on European shores and provide greater succor to those whose boats run into trouble at sea.
The draft also proposes that member states provide resettlement to 5,000 migrants, but this is a small fraction of the number that arrive on the shores of southern Europe each year.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday contrasted his country’s hosting of two million refugees from Syria with the EU’s approach of “letting the boats sink and leaving them to their deaths”.