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EU seeks UN approval to sink human traffickers’ boats

EU foreign policy chief wants UN backing for plan to board and destroy smugglers’ boats in Libyan waters

The European Union appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Monday, seeking an endorsement of a controversial plan for EU navies to board and sink human traffickers’ boats in Libyan and international waters.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said that its primary responsibility was “saving migrants’ lives” and that to accomplish that, countries need to work together to root out human trafficking networks in Libya and neighboring countries.

“Saving lives on one side and dismantling the criminal organizations that are organizing smuggling and trafficking — the two things have to go hand in hand,” she said at a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“It is not only a humanitarian emergency but also a security crisis, since smuggling networks are linked to and in some cases finance terrorist activities, which contributes to instability in a region that is already unstable enough,” she told the U.N. Security Council members earlier in a briefing.

Mogherini requested the U.N. endorse a strategy in which EU forces would board smugglers’ boats but would not intervene before the ships left the Libyan coast, diplomats said.

Russia, which has a veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, is strongly opposed to any such military action.

“We cannot support going so far as destroying ships without a court order or without the consent of the country whose flag the vessel flies,” warned Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the EU.

The announcement comes on the heels of a migration summit last month that announced a tripling of the funding of the bloc’s naval operation Triton, which was tasked with expanding its search and rescue operations, and a refugee resettlement program that would distribute asylum seekers more equally among member states.

Human rights organizations fiercely criticized the proposals for overemphasizing the security aspect of the operations rather than trying to resettle refugees and help them build a new life in Europe. Amnesty International slammed the EU for failing to respond to the growing crisis and not doing more to save lives at sea.

“The ghastly conditions for migrants, coupled with spiraling lawlessness and armed conflicts raging within the country, make clear just how dangerous life in Libya is today,” said Amnesty International’s Philip Luther in a report Sunday.

The EU summit came days after 900 migrants died off the Italian coast as they attempted to reach Europe to escape war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa. Last year, 3,072 migrants and asylum seekers were estimated to have died while crossing the Mediterranean in boats ill equipped for the dangerous journey.

This humanitarian crisis should also be tackled, Mogherini said, with a new migration policy, which will be unveiled Wednesday. The proposed migration plan aims to alleviate the burden on Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta, which receive the bulk of the migrants, as well as to offer protection to refugees in accordance with international humanitarian law.

“We need to increase the level of protection of the people we save,” she told reporters. “We will propose to increase our resettlement efforts and enhance legal opportunities to reach Europe,” she said at the U.N. briefing.

France’s top security official said he would back the plan to distribute asylum seekers more fairly among member states. The plan, however, needs approval from all 28 members, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appears set against it, describing the proposal as a “mad idea” Friday.

Mogherini countered such sentiments Monday by stressing the bloc’s collective responsibility to solve the migrant crisis.

"If we close the door to all, people will come in through the windows," she said, quoting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

With Agence France-Presse

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