A preliminary plan for a naval mission to stop the human trafficking into Europe, from Libya, has been approved by the European Union. The mission will include the use of drones to gather intelligence and the deployment of warships and raiding boats in the Mediterranean. A key component of the plan – the ability to destroy boats in Libyan waters that belong to the smugglers – is still awaiting confirmation from the UN Security Council. It is this last issue that has particularly been met with resistance.
NGO’s have criticised the proposal as inhumane, with Human Rights Watch describing it as “utter madness” and Amnesty International have highlighted the terrible conditions that the migrants are experiencing in Libya. Likewise, Russia and the US, as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, have all expressed reservations. Crucially though, it has received criticism from the Libyans themselves and Libya’s UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, has spoken openly against it. Clearly, without their consent, it will impinge on Libyan sovereignty and there is also the fear that Libyan fishing boats will be destroyed if mistaken for smuggling vessels.
The difficulty with gaining Libyan consent is that it will be needed from both of the rival governments, Tobruk and Tripoli, otherwise UN peacekeeping efforts will be undermined. So the real problem here, the Libyan civil war, comes to the fore.
The death toll of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean has been terrible; around 1,800 have died this year. The tragic story of the 750 migrants who perished last month rightly provoked the reaction we are currently seeing and migration from Libya into Europe is a problem that desperately needs to be dealt with. Yet, since the overthrow of Gaddafi, instigated by western powers, Libya has been largely ignored. Despite several years of civil war and considerable suffering, it is only when the issue of migration into Europe raises its head that Libya is being given serious attention.
Ironically, it is the very instability and lack of central authority resulting from the conflict that has allowed the people trafficking trade to profit; the effects of abandoning Libya for so long are therefore now directly affecting Europe. Many of the migrants have come from as far as Syria and sub-Saharan Africa in search of a better life in Europe. The fact that people will travel so far in order to get to Libya shows not only how desperate they are, but also that Libya represents by far their best chance of reaching Europe. As well as the need to tackle the traffickers head on, clearly there also needs to be a greater effort to move the rival authorities towards some kind of unity government. That will be easier said than done and certainly does not seem imminent but until some semblance of stability and security is restored to Libya, it will continue to appeal to smugglers and traffickers.