EU prepares military option against traffickers

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said his country rescued 150,000 migrants in 2014 [Xinhua]

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said his country rescued 150,000 migrants in 2014 [Xinhua]

Amid criticism that they haven’t done enough to ebb the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, European Union leaders on Thursday took the unprecedented step of preparing the framework for military action against traffickers.

Following an emergency meeting of EU leaders on Thursday, France and the UK said they would turn to the United Nations Security Council to get an international mandate to carry out military operations against the vessels operated by human traffickers carrying migrants to south European ports.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, was asked by EU leaders to “propose action in order to capture and destroy the smugglers’ vessels before they can be used”.

They also pledged to triple to at least $9 million funding to help border states such as Greece and Italy deal with the crisis.

The Thursday summit of EU leaders marked a culmination of a series of emergency meetings held to establish a consensus policy to deal with the increasing number of migrants making the dangerous trek from North African shores to the south of Europe.

Last week, at least 900 people were reported drowned after two vessels carrying migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, Syria, Iraq – to name a few – capsized of the southern coasts of Greece and Italy.

On Thursday, as EU leaders met, the Italian Coast Guard rescued a vessel carrying some 220 migrants that had just left the Libyan coast.

Since January of this year, at least 1,700 migrants have drowned.

Rights groups have, meanwhile, criticized the scaling down of a security and rescue operation – Mare Nostrum – which Italy had launched in 2013 to deal with increased migrant activity.

On Thursday, European countries pledged to contribute tracking vessels, materiel and human resources to assist Greece and Italy.

“Leaders have already pledged significantly greater support, including many more vessels, aircraft and experts,” EU President Donald Tusk told reporters following the Thursday meeting.

“We cannot accept that hundreds of people die when trying to cross the sea to Europe,” he added.

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to dispatch the Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark, three helicopters and two patrol ships to assist Greece and Italy.

The Mediterranean crisis has in the UK made the front pages of major newspapers for consecutive days this week.

Cameron also pledged to dispatch additional vessels while Germany committed to one frigate and Ireland promised a boat and full crew.

The EU also said it would provide more than $1 million to the Red Cross in Libya.

The challenge remains for EU leaders, however, concerning the fate of the thousands of migrants who do safely make it to European shores.

There have been plans discussed to relocate 5,000 migrants to countries other than Greece and Italy.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says his country rescued more than 150,000 migrants in 2014.

The BRICS POST with inputs from Agencies

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