Both the legitimately elected Libyan government in Tobruk and the Islamist faction controlling the nation’s capital, Tripoli, have expressed opposition to a plan by European Union nations to use military force to combat human trafficking across the Mediterranean Sea, which has cost a record number of lives already in 2015.
EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini urged the United Nations Security Council to support a plan to use military force to stop smugglers from risking the lives of thousands on makeshift vessels illegally traveling from Africa to Europe, replete with impoverished migrants from across all of Africa. “We need to count on your support to save lives,” Mogherini told those assembled.
While no concrete plan has been presented yet to the United Nations, reports indicate that the plan would use military assets compiled from across the EU to disable smuggling operations and prevent migrants from getting onboard these ships in the first place.
The EU has previously described the proposed measures as “systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers.”
The United States Department of State has not made any concrete statements supporting or opposing the measures, as there is not yet a draft of a UN resolution. Instead, spokesperson Marie Harf said Monday that State Department officials are “reviewing options for addressing this issue at the United Nations.”
A major obstacle to organizing an effort against the smugglers, many of whom depart from Libya, is that the nation itself is in disarray. It has no centralized government; instead, its internationally recognized, legitimately elected government resides in eastern Tobruk, on the border with Egypt. Tripoli is controlled by the Libya Dawn Islamist group. Assorted patches of land are controlled by the Islamic State.
Remarks by representatives of both governments indicate that, no matter who the European Union asks, Libya is not supportive of a military action on its territory. “Taking out boats without our permission would be considered a declaration of war against Libya,” said Abdel-Qader Huweily, a Libyan Dawn politician, when the action was first discussed publicly.
The Tobruk government reacted with similar concern, albeit less belligerence. Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Dabbashi said this week that his government has been kept out of EU discussions, and he does not understand how such an action can be successful without the input of the Libyan government. “The Libyan government has not been consulted by the European Union. They have left us in the dark about what their intentions are, what kind of military actions they are going to take in our territorial waters, so that is very worrying,” he told the World Service’s Newsday show.
The sentiment echoes Dabbashi’s statements to the Associated Press on Friday. “We will not accept any boots on the ground,” he told the AP, instead demanding the EU address the root cause of the migrant crisis: Libya’s internal turmoil. “Once the government retakes the capital, Tripoli, and controls the whole western area of Libya, I think it would be very easy to stop this flow of illegal immigrants to Europe because we know everyone who is involved in this business,” he stated. The UN, he concluded, “has to take necessary steps even to take the capital by force.”
Libya’s major cities continue to fall deeper into anarchy. A report by Lebanon’s The Daily Star published Tuesday describes life in the port city of Benghazi as “punctuated by kidnappings, assassinations and threats,” according to one smuggler who helps customers, mostly Africans from outside of Libya, reach Europe. One resident tells the newspaper that in the early days after Qaddafi, “business was booming in the city”; however, “by 2013, the city began to feel grim and was slowly dying. … There’s no police, no leadership, no justice, no law.”
The BBC notes that UN estimates place the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe at 60,000 in 2015 so far. Of those, 1,800 are believed to have died in the attempt. These numbers to do not reflect the impact of a separate maritime migrant crisis afflicting Europe: Syrian Civil War refugees risking it all to cross the Aegean Sea into Greece, or the east Mediterranean into Turkey. Greek officials are reportedly “overwhelmed” by the crisis, with minimal funding allocated to help minimize the impact of immigrants, given the dire economic situation in which the nation continues to find itself.