EU to launch operation against Libya's migrant smugglers

AP News
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Posted: Jun 19, 2015 8:54 AM

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union will move ahead beginning next week on a plan to disrupt the business model of human traffickers in the Mediterranean Sea, diplomats said Friday.

Around 100,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year, with some 2,000 dead or missing during their perilous quest to reach the continent. Dozens of boats are launched from lawless Libya each week, with Italy and Greece bearing the brunt of the surge.

Two diplomats from EU nations told The Associated Press the EU would start using ships, planes and drones for surveillance and intelligence-gathering on the traffickers but stay away from politically sensitive actions such as boarding or destroying smuggling boats, which are expected in later phases of the operation.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the official decision was expected to come at Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

In the first phase of the plan, the EU boats and planes will only operate in international waters and skies and will be involved in rescue work if needed. But EU nations want to get as much of the full operation ready to go as soon as possible.

"The hope is that we can achieve the rest before September," one of the diplomats said.

The later phases of the EU anti-trafficking operation would require U.N. clearance and some consent from authorities in Libya to operate in national waters and territories.

Haste is necessary. Many more migrants from Africa and the Middle East are expected to arrive over the next three months — the summer high season for migrant departures.