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Britain drafting UN security council resolution that would authorise mission to hit vessels used by human traffickers for dash across Mediterranean.
A German frigate rescuing shipwrecked people from the Mediterranean, 130 nautical miles off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Photograph: PAO/Mittelmeer / HANDOUT/EPA.
The European Union has drawn up plans for military attacks in Libya to try to curb the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean by targeting the trafficking networks. It is to launch a bid on Monday to secure a UN mandate for armed action in Libya’s territorial waters.
Britain is drafting the UN security council resolution that would authorise the mission, said senior officials in Brussels. It would come under Italian command, have the participation of around 10 EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, and could also drag in Nato although there are no plans for initial alliance involvement.
On Monday, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s chief foreign and security policy coordinator, is to brief the UN security council in New York on the plans for a “chapter seven” resolution authorising the use of force. The British draft is believed to call for the “use of all means to destroy the business model of the traffickers”.
This would entail having EU vessels in Libyan territorial waters, including the Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark – currently in Malta – and deploying helicopter gunships to “neutralise” identified traffickers’ ships used to send tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East on the short but highly risky voyage from the Libyan coast to the shores of southern Italy.
An MoD spokesperson said: “Working closely with Italy and EU partners, HMS Bulwark and three Royal Naval Merlin Helicopters are providing wide ranging search and rescue capabilities in the Mediterranean, already rescuing over 100 people. The UK is now considering how best to support the proposed EU mission to counter the smuggling networks.”
Libyan militias, jihadi groups, and Islamic State affiliates believed to be in cahoots with the trafficking networks are said to have heavy artillery and anti-aircraft batteries deployed close to the coast. Attacks on EU vessels and aircraft could trigger an escalation and force Nato to get involved, said policymakers in Brussels.
Following a visit to Beijing last week, Mogherini believes the Chinese will not block the mission at the security council. Her staff are also confident that Russia can be persuaded against wielding its security council veto despite the intense animosity between Moscow and the west over the Ukraine conflict.
The Italian government, which is leading the drive for military action and which would command the mission which would be headquartered in Rome, said at the weekend that the Russians were “ready to cooperate”.
Libya’s ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told the Associated Press that he had not been consulted on the plans and opposed them.
Following intensive talks over the past week in Brussels, six EU states have committed to taking part, with several more expected to offer participation. All 28 member states are said in Brussels to support the proposed campaign.
The plans are to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next week and then be put to an EU summit next month in response to the mass migration across the Mediterranean and the soaring rates of drownings.
Separately from the push in New York for EU military action, Brussels is also calling for new and binding rules establishing a quota system of sharing refugees among the EU’s 28 countries.
The European Commission is to unveil a new European “migration agenda” on Wednesday which contains the controversial and highly divisive proposals, pushed by Germany and rejected by Britain and east European countries.
“The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states,” says the commission proposal obtained by the Guardian. By the end of the year Brussels is to table new legislation “for a mandatory and automatically-triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU when a mass influx emerges”.
The proposals will lay bare deep divisions between national governments over immigration, with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, backing the scheme and Britain and most countries of eastern Europe fiercely resisting.
Germany and Sweden between them take almost half of asylum-seekers in the EU and Berlin is predicting that the number this year could almost double to around 400,000 in Germany alone, two-thirds of the total number in the EU last year.
“Some member states have already made a major contribution to [refugee] resettlement efforts. But others offer nothing,” the commission paper complains. It also insists that Europe has to open up legal avenues for migrants to enter the union safely, a notion that is strongly opposed by Theresa May, Britain’s home secretary.
“Such vulnerable people cannot be left to resort to the criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers. There must be safe and legal ways for them to reach the EU,” the commission document says.
On Friday, Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and a leading hardliner on immigration, described the commission proposals as “mad” and pledged to defy Brussels.
“The European concept of ‘someone letting immigrants into their country’ and then ‘distributing’ them among the other memberstates is a mad and unfair idea,” he said.
Brussels is proposing to invoke “emergency mechanisms” by the end of the month obliging the 28 countries to share the numbers of “persons in clear need of international protection and “to ensure a fair and balanced participation of all member states to this common effort. This step will be the precursor of a lasting solution.”
The new blueprint, to be unveiled by commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday, includes a distribution “key” system based on various criteria from national wealth levels to unemployments rates to determine what proportion of refugees the 28 countries should each admit.
Author: Ian Traynor