Europe Seeks U.N. Blessing to Use Military to Halt Smugglers at Sea
Somini Sengupta, New York Times
10 September, 2015
Image: Hellenic American Leadership Council
UNITED NATIONS — European countries are pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution to allow their military forces to apprehend human-smuggling vessels in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, diplomats here said.
The draft resolution, which is to be circulated among Council members in the coming days, was being negotiated as the Continent struggles to stop people from taking increasingly desperate measures to reach Europe.
It would authorize military action on a specific route on the high seas from the coast of Libya north to Italy. The proposal is a significant step down from what the European leaders originally wanted: The Council’s blessing to conduct military operations along the Libyan coast, on land and water, to seize and disrupt the smugglers. They dropped those plans when they failed to secure Libyan consent.
The Libyan authorities recognized by the West said they did not even control the coastline from which most of the smugglers depart. Much of the coast is controlled by a rival group, and peace talks have yet to yield a unity government.
According to one Security Council diplomat, the resolution would allow for boats to be seized and for the people on board to be taken to Italy, where the authorities would determine who among them may be eligible for asylum because they were fleeing war or persecution.
“It’s our moral and legal duty to take those people to safety, which means north not south,” added the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal before it was put before the Council. “It would be for the Italians to work out which of them were refugees and which were not.”
People suspected of being smugglers would be prosecuted in Italy, the diplomat said, with the aim of smashing what he called “their smuggling model.”
Smuggling operations have ballooned in recent years, migrants’ advocates point out, because there are so few avenues for people fleeing war or poverty to gain a legal foothold in Europe.
The resolution could be seen as an effort to show Europeans at home that their governments are doing something to halt the flow of people. Yet stepping up enforcement may do little, by itself, to deter people trying to get to Europe or the smugglers, who could easily abandon them on the high seas and head back to Libyan territorial waters
Council diplomats said they hoped the draft resolution would be adopted by the end of the month, when world leaders will gather at the United Nations for the annual meeting of the General Assembly.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to host a special session on confronting the migrant crisis. Pope Francis is expected to touch on the subject in an address before the General Assembly gets underway.
The Libyan route is taken by many of the people fleeing the destitution and chaos of West Africa, along with those fleeing Eritrea, in East Africa, and Afghanistan.
Syrians have increasingly been taking another route, from Turkey to Greece and then heading overland to Northern Europe. The draft resolution does not address that route, in large part because most of it does not include the high seas.
Copyright: New York Times 2015
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