Briefing and Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Smuggling of Migrants in the Mediterranean
On Monday (11 May) the Council will receive a briefing by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on the EU response to the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. After the briefing, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue with her. At the request of Chad, the permanent observer of the AU to the UN, Ambassador Tete António, will also participate in these meetings.
This briefing comes after the 19 April incident in which more than 700 migrants drowned when the overcrowded boat on which they were traveling sank near Libya. According to the Integrational Organization for Migration, more than 1,700 migrants have drowned since the beginning of January in the Mediterranean Sea. In a 21 April press statement, Council members expressed grave concern at the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya, highlighting the implications for regional stability. On 22 April, at the request of the UK, Council members exchanged views on this issue under “any other business”.
Mogherini is expected to brief Council members on the integrated strategy by the EU to address the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The strategy includes the provision of bilateral development assistance to countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin—as well as to countries of origin and transit—while tripling the financial resources available to operations Triton and Poseidon, currently existing in the territorial waters of EU member states. In a 20 April joint meeting of EU foreign and interior Ministers, chaired by Mogherini, the Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos of Greece presented a plan to respond to migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean, which would entail a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers, inspired by the EU Atalanta Operation deployed to fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. The plan was endorsed in a 23 April meeting of the EU Council, and negotiations are ongoing at the EU to agree on the Crisis Management Concept, which is the basis for operational planning and conduct of any EU mission.
Since that meeting, discussions among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain, and the UK) and Italy on a draft resolution apparently authorising such an operation have been ongoing. It seems some permanent members have been able to provide inputs. It appears the idea is for a Chapter VII resolution that will authorise an EU operation to use all necessary measures to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. The draft may be circulated to the wider membership of the Council in the coming days.
Although most Council members have not seen the draft text, they are aware of some of its elements and are expected to seek information that might feed into any negotiations of the draft. Council members are likely to want to know more about the expected geographical scope of the resolution (whether this includes the high seas, the territorial waters of Libya or even its shore) and whether the EU is seeking Libya’s consent. In this context, Council members might inquire about Mogherini’s recent conversations in Tunisia with Libyan political actors, and the potential impact of such an operation on the political process. Some Council members might be worried that asking for the consent of the Tobruk-based government could negatively impact the talks, which are aimed at the formation of a government of national unity.
Some Council members may echo concerns regarding the protection of human rights and international refugee law that have been raised by the Secretary-General as well as the UN High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees. In particular, they might ask about the fate of the migrants taken into custody, and note the importance of respecting the guarantees of international law, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement. When the programme of work was adopted, a briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, was being considered for some point in May. Some Council members may have expected these briefings to happen before engaging in discussions about the regional responses to the smuggling of migrants; however, at press time, it was unclear if and when they will be held.
In the past, it has been difficult to get agreement on resolutions authorising the interception of vessels, whether in the context of the implementation of sanctions or counter-piracy measures. Some Council members feel strongly about not contravening the freedom of navigation principle codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on issues such as the procedures to authorise the interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required, and where the interdiction is authorised to happen.