UN Extends Mandate to Search Ships off Libyan Coast for Migrants

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On Friday, the United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to extend for a year the authorisation for UN member nations to search vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya if there are reasonable suspicions they are being used to smuggle migrants or for human trafficking.

The German-sponsored resolution also authorizes the seizure of vessels confirmed to be used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya.

The resolution “condemns all acts of migrant smuggling and human trafficking into, through and from the Libyan territory and off the coast of Libya, which further undermine the process of stabilization in Libya and endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.

Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. The International Office for Migration estimated in March that the death toll among migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean had passed the “grim milestone” of 20,000 deaths since 2014.

The European Union established a naval mission, Operation Sophia, in 2015 after tens of thousands of migrants began attempting perilous Mediterranean crossings in search of better lives in Europe. However, Italy blocked Operation Sophia, claiming that the warships attracted migrants to Europe’s shores. Planes and drones were still used by the Operation.

In March, the EU launched a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya, dubbed IRINI, the Greek word for “peace,” and said it would use aerial, satellite and maritime assets.

The resolution, adopted Friday, welcomes measures that have been taken since the first resolution on inspecting and seizing vessels engaged in migrant smuggling and human trafficking in 2015, and encourages their continuation. It also takes note of the deployment of Operation IRINI.

Germany’s deputy UN ambassador Gunter Sautter said preventing migrant smuggling and human trafficking is very important and operation IRINI will continue, but he noted that the resolution is “a call to action” to the entire international community, not just the EU.