LUXEMBOURG: The European Union launched a naval operation Monday to try to stop human-traffickers from bringing migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe in unseaworthy boats, a lucrative and at times deadly practice.
More than 100,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year, with some 2,000 dead or missing during the perilous quest to reach the continent. Dozens of boats set off from lawless Libya each week, with Italy and Greece bearing the brunt of the surge.
The naval operation, which was officially launched by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, will operate in international waters and airspace until the EU can secure a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing its effort and permission from Libyan officials to enter their territory.
"We will start implementing the first phase of the operation in the coming days. This covers information-gathering and patrolling on the high seas to support the detection and monitoring of smuggling networks," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
"The targets are not the migrants. The targets are those that are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths," she told reporters.
The EU aims to "dismantle the business model" of the traffickers by destroying their boats, she said. But the U.N. has been slow to endorse the operation amid criticism from refugee groups that the move will only deprive migrants fleeing poverty and conflict of a major way to escape, rather than address the roots of the problem.
Libya's divided factions have also been reluctant to approve any operation in its waters or on land, which means that the transition to more robust phases of the naval mission could take months.
A senior EU diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as to provide operational details, said five naval units led by Italian light aircraft carrier Cavour will be joined by two submarines, three maritime surveillance planes, two drones and two helicopters for the operation.