EU to weigh military action to curb illegal immigration
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 succour to those whose boats run into trouble at sea.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday contrasted his country’s hosting two million refugees from Syria with the EU’s approach of “letting the boats sink and leaving them to their deaths.”
The vast majority of the Libya shipwreck’s estimated 800 victims were locked in the hold or the middle deck of the 66-foot converted fishing boat when it collided with a Portuguese cargo ship responding to its distress signal. One of the 28 survivors described nightmarish conditions on board. “Those who had the least money were stuffed into the hold at the bottom, and locked inside,” a Bangladeshi teenager identified as Abdirizzak told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
When the first collision happened in pitch darkness, scenes of pure terror ensued. “Everyone was screaming, pushing, punching, elbowing — terrified. From below we could hear those who were locked in shouting ‘Help, Help!'” Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania said they had asked a judge to charge the boat’s Tunisian captain with illegal confinement as well as culpable homicide, causing a shipwreck and aiding illegal immigration.
The skipper, Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, is alleged to have been drinking and smoking hashish while steering the boat. A Syrian crew member Mahmud Bikhit, 25, is also in custody. The exact number of victims may never be known as the wreck sank in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean. A further 1,106 migrants landed on Italy’s shores Wednesday after being picked up at sea by the coastguard, bringing the total currently housed in reception centers around the country to 70,507, according to the interior ministry.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly ready to offer the services of a Royal Navy warship which could seek to prevent migrant boats from leaving Libya. But experts question whether such action, modelled on Australia’s approach to its migrant crisis, could be done without UN authorization. EU governments have already agreed to double the resources available to a maritime border patrol mission, but that has been attacked as too little, too late by refugee and rights groups. “Today we know that the fact that there is no effective rescue operation in place, has not reduced but rather increased the number of people who try to cross the Mediterranean,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Thursday.
Sunday’s disaster was the worst in a series of migrant shipwrecks that have claimed more than 1,750 lives this year — 30 times higher than the same period in 2014 — and nearly 5,000 since the start of last year. If current trends continue, there could be 30,000 deaths at sea this year and Italy will have to process 200,000 migrants landing on its soil, according to projections by aid groups. Italian officials believe there could be up to one million refugees from Syria, Eritrea and sub-Saharan Africa already in Libya hoping to board boats.