The New York Times is reporting that United Nations Security Council members are seeking authorization to use military force to combat smugglers of illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa into Italy, Greece, and other parts of Europe.
According to the Times, a draft resolution is being prepared that would “authorize European troops to conduct military operations not only in international waters, but also on Libyan soil and in Libya’s territorial waters.” The nations seeking this permission are citing Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which would allow the use of force in these cases.
The resolution proposed would follow an emergency meeting of European Union countries in late April, in which the nations agreed to triple the funding for a previously Italian-only program called Triton, authorized to save migrants that reach Italian waters. During that meeting, a number of nations expressed reservations that the guarantee of being saved by European powers would attract an even larger wave of migrants, particularly during the summer months when the voyage is marginally less dangerous.
The proposed Security Council resolution would address that potential increase in immigrants by targeting the smugglers themselves, not the migrants who pay smugglers to flee Africa. Reuters adds more information on what the military actions would be: seizing boats from smugglers, thus preventing them from reusing the same vessels to bring more migrants to Europe. The Reuters report notes that Russia has claimed it would veto a provision that allows for the outright destruction of the boats.
The Security Council would have to determine whether the military operation would require consent from the Libyan government, as Libya remains the main base for most of these migrant ventures. Libya current has two governments: an internationally recognized executive in eastern Tobruk, and the General National Congress, an Islamist government in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
It remains uncertain which of the two– or whether both– governments would have to consent to a new Western military operation in their seas.
The suggestion of destroying boats would be consistent with what at least one anonymous “smuggling kingpin” told The Guardian in an interview: turning the boats back would do little to stop the flow of migrants, as smugglers would simply keep trying to push their trade forward.
The Times noted that, previously, “U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said there is no military solution to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.” It is estimated that at least 1,800 migrants have died at sea. Nine hundred of those are believed to have died during one failed trip to Italy, which has been described as the worst maritime disaster in recent history. While the wreck occurred on April 18, only today have Italian authorities announced that they have found the skeleton of the wrecked vessel; only 24 bodies have been found.