The European Union will launch a new Mediterranean naval and air mission in April to stop arms reaching the warring factions in Libya. Greece has agreed to take in any migrants rescued at sea during this operation.
The decision comes after previous disagreements over the fate of rescued migrants. The European Union’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borell, warned that the bloc risked becoming irrelevant should it prove unable to act, paving the way for Turkey and Russia to do as they wished.
“Greece has allowed disembarkation (of rescued migrants) in its ports,” said an EU diplomat involved in the negotiations, adding that other EU governments have agreed to help cover the harbor costs of bringing those rescued ashore to avoid more financial pressure on Athens.
The new mission, named Irene, will replace the EU’s current military mission, known as Operation Sophia. Sophia had stopped deploying ships a year ago after Italy, facing an anti-immigrant backlash, said it would no longer take migrants rescued at sea. Under International law, EU ships are required to rescue troubled ships.
Sophia’s mandate expires at the end of March, meaning Irene aims to start patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean, where most illegal arms smuggling takes place, beginning in April.
Diplomats have acknowledged that the EU is unable to patrol the Egyptian-Libyan land border, where artillery is still being transported.