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European Union targets migrant smuggling network

June 25, 2015 - LIBYA

European Union leaders anticipate launching a sea and air mission aimed at smashing migrant smuggling networks operating out of Libya, a program that has drawn fire from Libya and from refugee rights groups.

It includes seizing smugglers off the Libyan coast and destroying their boats to combat the rising number of migrants fleeing war and poverty in North Africa.

The program's rules of engagement and operational details are still under development, but it has been decided that it will be run from Rome and have a 1-year mandate.

Libya objects to the program, describing it as inhumane. The main concerns of refugee rights groups are the militarization of the migrant crisis and collateral damage.

Opponents of boat-destruction argue that once loaded, the hulls of the vessels are often crammed with people not visible from outside, creating a huge risk that boats could be targeted with people still on board.

Proponents argue that deaths could be avoided by smashing smugglers' vessels, often fishing boats leased from Libyan fishermen, before they are loaded with their human cargoes.

For Libya, collateral damage also includes the destruction of some of its fishing fleet.

Michael Diedring, the secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told Britain's Guardian newspaper in May that a shortage of vessels will mean even more people packed in them. "There is even a possibility, given the desperate situation these people face, that they might try to construct their own boats," he added.

Statewatch coverage of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean

Migrant crisis: EU plan to strike Libya networks could include ground forces (The Guardian)

EU to launch Mediterranean naval mission to tackle migrant crisis (Guardian 18 May 2015)

Mediterranean migrants: Libya rejects EU military plans

Date written/update: 2015-05-28