EU to back ‘boat-destroyer’ mission in Mediterranean

The UN estimates that 60,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year

bbc

 EU foreign and defence ministers are expected to approve a mission to destroy the boats used by people-smugglers operating in Libya.

At a meeting in Brussels, the ministers will also discuss the mission’s command-and-control structure and HQ.

It is part of the EU’s response to the vast numbers of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

More than 1,800 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2015.

This is a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.

Some 60,000 people have already tried to make the perilous crossing this year, the UN estimates.

Many are fleeing conflict or poverty in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia.

‘Desperate conditions’

The EU ministers are expected to fine-tune the 28-member bloc’s search-and-destroy operations.

Initially it will involve gathering intelligence on the activities of the gangs, but it will also take action against smugglers’ boats in international waters, the BBC’s Chris Morris in Brussels reports.

Our correspondent says the third and most controversial phase of the mission will be military operations conducted inside Libyan territorial waters and on its coast – in areas controlled by a potentially hostile Islamist militia.

mapLibya, where many smugglers operate, has objected to the EU proposals.

EU countries are seeking a UN Security Council resolution that will give the mission legal backing.

Its aim, officials say, is to disrupt the business model that makes people-smuggling across the Mediterranean such a lucrative trade.

What that means in practice is that the EU is willing to take considerable risks to destroy boats and infrastructure used by smugglers who are swamping Europe with huge numbers of migrants, our correspondent says.

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