Mediterranean migrants crisis: Also a military solution?

Italy has mentioned few times that Europe must strike the traffickers, destroying their boats. And Rome even mentioned international military or police operation. The EU has announced it is the plan to capture and destroy the smugglers vessels before they can be used. Would you say it might help, or maybe not so much, and why? Read few comments.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

Yes, that is a policy that is much discussed here in Italy.

In the 1990s, our Special Forces sinked/disabled lots of boats the Albanian traffickers were using to bring people from Albania to Southern Italy. The idea is, with some differences, to start doing the same now with the boats in Libya.

In theory, it could work. Most trafficking activities require ships that sometimes scuttle, sometimes get ashore and are captured by Italian Coast Guard and authorities, meaning traffickers always need new ships/boats. That’s why sometimes they try to fight to retain their ships when they are discovered by Coast Guard (it has recently happened a couple times) and need to buy new ones. Some small shipyards in Libya build these small ships/boats.

The point is that if we can sink/disable enough ships and their builders, flows will naturally drop. It can work, really.

But the problem is: international legitimization: EU Council will discuss this today and in the next few days if I remember correctly, there’s a need for a mandate: shooting at targets in Libya equals declaring war to at least the faction controlling the involved area. In some cases we’re talking ports in built-up areas/towns In other words what is the legal framework we would work in?

Second is doing so with minimal collateral damage: therefore no air bombing. Drones that perform targeted strikes? Possible but Italy doesn’t have armed ones, will require 6 months to get them from the US and be ready to use them. Special Forces/intel will still be used, if any. Risks will exist.

Also, this will slow down the flows, possibly, but not alter the overal flows inside Libya, meaning the problem may just “shift” elsewhere. Migration is like water, it follows the path of least resistance. If Libya becomes harder to flee from, they may be directed elsewhere.

In short: it can work, it has some problems on how to do it (both practical and legal), but can’t alter the overall dynamics and the issue could resurface later.
It’s surely useful to damage trafficking networks as it provides a huge short-term impact on their funds (unless they manage to get paid even if they can’t move migrants).

A larger operation on Libyan soil is instead another thing altogether but Italy isn’t willing to act until the rival governments of Tripoli and Tobruk find some sort of agreement.

David Fernández RojoAssistant in the Research Team “European Integration”, University of Deusto

I believe those are very unfortunate political statements. We currently have at EU level measures in order to return illegally staying third-country nationals.

Firstly, it would not stop immigrants attempting to reach the shores of Europe. We have to bare in mind that these immigrants are escaping from countries such as Libya or Syria where horrible breaches of Human Rights are taking place. Furthermore, those policies would face legal consequences at the ECtHR level, political at the EU Institutions level and social from civil society.

Secondly, the EU and its Member States should focus on real and effective policies to stop the “pull factor”. From my point of view, more efforts must be placed at the EU Asylum policy. Specifically, several improvements should be envisaged:

– Joint processing of asylum seeking applications under the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) should be implemented. Cooperation agreements with EASO should be accompanied by operation plans.
– A common status of EU level refugee should be established so that asylum seekers processed and recognized in one country may move freely within the EU and, if they wish so, relocate in another member state.
– Mutual recognition of positive decisions should be established to stimulate Southern European countries to put more effort and resources to improve their asylum systems.

Stella GeorgiadouAssociate Tutor (Politics), Research Student (Politics), University of Sussex

The large-scale instability and insecurity in the EU’s neighbourhood as well as the prospect of a better life in Europe are the main driving forces behind the increasing numbers of illegal migration.

Such measures like destroying the traffickers’ boats or increasing military responses do not address the root causes of the problem and are not a sustainable solution. A sustainable route to addressing the problem of illegal migration and decreasing the demand for the boats is to address the conflict situations in these countries of North Africa and their economic under-development. As long as conflicts and economic and social inequalities persist, people will still be willing to leave their towns and countries and take the dangerous trip to Europe.

The focus, therefore, should shift to addressing the root causes of the problem.

Christian Kaunert, Professor of International Politics, Director of the European Institute for Security and Justice, University of Dundee

It is of course understandable that Italy calls for actions against smugglers. However, it is really only dealing with the symptoms, like taking an aspirin when you have a serious injury. The real cause of the crisis is related to the situation in Syria, Iraq and the wider Middle East. As long as there is civil war and conflict, there will be many people fleeing. The unstable situation in Libya and, to an extent, Egypt, is facilitating this. This is where European and American policy would need to work on. Individual smugglers can always be replaced by other smugglers.

Gabriele IacovinoResponsabile Analisti, Ce.S.I. – Centro Studi Internazionali

There is a bit of confusion about possible measures.

First of all, Italy doesn’t have armed drones and it will not have them before of one year. So the drone missions would be just surveillance and getting information.

Then the EU will support the naval mission of surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea so we will come back to Mare Sicuro. In this perspective, I think that will be very difficult to have some small operation to destroy ship in Libya without the agreement of UN.

So right now, we will enforce the control on the sea trying to stop vessels and rescue people.


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