On February 17th, EU foreign ministers agreed, in principle, on a new mission to enforce the arms embargo on Libya.
This would include naval assets, this was announced by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and confirmed by the Italian and Austrian foreign ministers.
“We all agreed to create a mission to block the entry of arms into Libya,” said Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio.
The new mission will replace Operation Sophia, which was initially launched in 2015 to stop human trafficking from North Africa to Europe, while also enforcing a UN arms embargo. Operation Sophia was suspended in 2019 over Italy’s protests that EU vessels were rescuing migrants in distress at sea, and allowing them disembark at Italian ports.
Austria’s government opposed the mission being restarted by arguing that sending EU ships along the Libyan coast would lead to a rise in Europe-bound migrants.
Essentially, warships will be deployed to enforce the embargo, and the ships that would be used to rescue migrants and refugees from drowning would be stopped.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said the new operation with naval ships, planes and satellites will enforce the United Nations arms embargo on Libya.
Borrell promised that it wouldn’t become a rescue mission and that the ships would be withdrawn if they became “a pull factor” that encouraged people to attempt the risky crossing from Libya to Europe.
The new mission will see EU ships dispatched only to the eastern Mediterranean, where the Libyan National Army is based in Libya, and far away from the sea routes used by migrants around the Government of National Accord (GNA) controlled areas in the west.
How effective this would be is dubious, since Turkey is also violating the embargo by delivering weapons and equipment to the GNA.
An internal EU memo, released by the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch, underscores that the EU does not expect to be involved in rescuing people. “Naval assets can be deployed in the areas most relevant to the implementation of the arms embargo, in the eastern part of the area of operation or at least 100km off the Libyan coast, where chances to conduct rescue operations are lower,” it says.
The task “contributing to information sharing and implementation of the UN arms embargo” becomes the Operation’s core task; “Monitoring activities related to oil smuggling” will also be carried out.
The task “Contributing to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Mediterranean” becomes a supporting task refocused to “supporting the detection and monitoring of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling in accordance with international law,” carried out by aerial assets.
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