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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

EU’s Plan to “Hep” Refugees: Sink Their Boats with Drones Strikes

The plan isn't just crazy — it's counterproductive


Last week, I reported on the strange and tragic saga of Europe’s boat refugees. Thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia are traveling thousands of miles over land, fleeing everything from famine and earthquakes to civil war, conscription, crime, and poverty.

Their flight brings them to the shores of Libya on the Mediterranean Sea, a stretch of coastline dotted with oil rigs and fishing towns. Since Libya’s government collapsed under the weight of NATO airstrikes and rebel forces, the area has become a haven for illegal industries, including human smuggling.

The smugglers make enormous profits transporting migrants from Africa to Europe, where they may seek asylum under the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian agreements. But first they must endure a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean in tiny vessels overflowing with other refugees desperate to get to Europe.

38,000 people have escaped from Libya to Europe this way in 2015, but the rickety, overcrowded boats have been sinking with increasing frequency, killing as many as 2,000 people since January. 1,200 drowned in a single week last month.

But European governments have a plan to save them from this horrible fate. No, it’s not to repeal the EU regulation that stops refugees from taking airplanes. It’s to blow up the boats before refugees can board them.

At the Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau reports on the plan to the EU’s plan to “identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”:

The plan was presented to the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday by Federica Mogherini, an Italian who is the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

In asking the U.N. Security Council to bless military action against the Libyan-based smuggler rings, she promised that the EU would take full responsibility for “identifying trafficking vessels for destruction before they are filled with migrants.” . . .

At face value, the idea itself could be considered noble — stop the merchants of death by destroying their lethal weapons, in this case unsafe fishing vessels that are packed over capacity with desperate migrants.

But everyone from the head of the United Nations to those welcoming migrants on the shores of Italy warn that just one mistake will stain Europe’s hands with the blood of every dead migrant officials say they are trying to save. 

But the problem is that smugglers do not operate fleets in special pirate ports, waving black flags identifying themselves as smugglers. Nadeau, quoting the Guardian, points out,

“Smuggling boats start life as fishing trawlers. The moment of transition from the latter to the former is informal and almost imperceptible to outsiders,” the author writes after interviewing several smugglers.

“Smugglers do not maintain a separate, independent harbor of clearly marked vessels, ready to be targeted by EU air strikes. They buy them off fishermen at a few days’ notice. To destroy their potential pool of boats, the EU would need to raze whole fishing ports.” . . .

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the plan to blow up boats was “not appropriate.”

Ki-moon further pointed out that Libya is already an extremely poor country, and systematically destroying its fishing boats would further devastate coastal communities.

But that hasn’t dissuaded Italy’s defense minister, who says that Italian surveillance drones are good enough to identify the migrant boats: “We know where the smugglers keep their boats, where they gather… The plans for military intervention are there.”

A retired Italian general suggested “borrowing” United States’ attack drones to shoot holes in the hulls, sinking the boats, instead of blowing them up.

Libya’s quasi-government in Tripoli said that the plan would be an act of war and threatened retaliation if Europe’s militaries started sinking Libyan ships.

Lost in the debate over the feasibility of exploding fishing boats seems to be any consideration of why people are fleeing thousands of miles, across oceans and continents, and paying thousands of euros for a seat on these horribly unsafe ships in the first place: the alternative is worse.

These people are fleeing conditions so bad that this deadly trip is their best hope for a better life, and the EU’s plan to “help” is to raze Libya’s fishing fleets and strand them in a war-torn failed state.

This plan isn’t merely sociopathic, it’s counterproductive. Refugees are not going to just give up on reaching safety — indeed, many of them probably couldn’t return home even if they wanted to. Removing this option does nothing to solve the underlying demand. It will only serve to push people to more and more desperate measures, while smugglers’ profits rise and the ability of refugees to negotiate better treatment shrinks.

The refugees are already victims of their own governments’ cruelty and corruption. They have already been denied passage on the safest, fastest, cheapest transports we have (airplanes). Surely, governments have done enough to them; don’t send drones to blow up their last hope and call it “help,” too.


  • Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.