Oppose Further EU Military Intervention in Responding to Humanitarian Catastrophe:
Criminal Response of EU to Shocking Deaths of Migrants
Last week the EU Foreign Affairs Council announced that it will step up military and other forms of intervention, particularly in Libya, allegedly in order to prevent the deaths of migrants travelling to Europe from North Africa. Already this year almost 2,000 men, women and children, mainly of African origin, have lost their lives in the course of crossing the Mediterranean. Britain and the other big powers must be condemned for their criminal activities in Africa and western Asia that have created millions of refugees and asylum seekers. They must also be condemned for allowing the recent deaths of thousands of innocent people in the Mediterranean, a crime against humanity which it was claimed would act as a deterrent to future migrants.
The numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has increased over recent years and so have the numbers of deaths. Over 112,000 migrants were reported to have attempted to make the crossing in the first eight months of 2014, over three times the number for the entire previous year. Between 1998-2013 around 44,000 migrants were smuggled into Europe annually. In 2014, there were 220,000, over 170,000 crossing the Mediterranean in boats. During that year it was estimated that over 3,000 migrants died during the crossing. In the period 1988-2015, 18,403 people died crossing the Mediterranean but half of these deaths were recorded in the last five years. In addition, an unknown number of migrants died in the crossing without being recorded as their bodies did not turn up in countries where the EU has jurisdiction. Not only have the number of deaths increased but the likelihood of perishing while crossing the Mediterranean has risen this year to 45%.
Research by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) indicates that the turmoil in Libya following the illegal NATO military intervention in 2011 has been a major factor accounting for the increased number of migrants but it is not the only factor. Libya is clearly now the main embarkation point but significant numbers of migrants originate from Syria, where military intervention by Britain and the other big power has fuelled and exacerbated the armed conflicts in that country and produced over 3 million refugees. Large numbers of African refugees come from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria and increasingly from other African countries such as Mali. These countries have also been affected by military and other forms of intervention by Britain and the other big powers as well as suffering from the legacy of colonial rule.
The EU response to what might be considered a major humanitarian crisis has mainly been in the form of strengthening its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), although it has also announced that it will re-establish wider search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean. The main military operation recently announced will be an EU Naval Force operation designed to “break the business model” of those smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean by attacking boats and smuggling networks based in Libya. The EU Naval Force was first used in what were referred to as “anti-piracy” operations off the coat of Somalia, which have been continuing since 2008.
The EU mission, which will violate the sovereignty of Libya and its territorial waters, will be conducted under what is referred to as a UN Chapter 7 Resolution, preparations for which are being led by the British government in the UN Security Council. Such a Resolution, which relates to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, allows member countries to use military force when there are “threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression”. It is therefore difficult to see how it might be legally employed to save the lives of “clandestine migrants” or prevent their trafficking. The preparations for its use also fly in the face of statements made by the Foreign Affairs Minister of the EU, who claimed to be working in concert with the Libyan government. Indeed, the government of Libya recognised by the EU immediately opposed military intervention saying it would “not accept any violation of Libyan sovereignty”. Its spokesperson added that “the military option to deal with the boats inside Libyan waters or outside is not considered humane”. The Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, has also voiced his opposition to military strikes on boats that are often also used by Libyans for fishing and other economic activities.
As is well-known, NATO-directed regime change in Libya has left that country, formerly the most economically developed in Africa, in a state of economic collapse and political chaos with two rival governments. Military intervention by NATO has led directly to the sinister ISIL, which the British government and its allies claim to oppose, operating openly within Libya’s borders. Further military intervention therefore seems designed to make a bad situation worse. The EU already interferes in many aspects of Libya’s internal affairs through the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM). This Mission, allegedly designed to strengthen internal and border security in the country, has clearly been a spectacular failure. In addition to the threat of further military intervention in Libya, the EU also announced that it would step up interference in Africa through the EUCAP programme which it has established with the border and security services of Niger and Mali. These missions followed in the wake of the further instability created by EU/NATO military intervention in Libya and Mali.
For its part, the British government, which is taking the lead in preparing for military intervention in Africa, has also been in the lead in regard to its opposition to welcoming any of the Mediterranean migrants to Britain. Responding to proposals from the EU, Home Secretary Theresa May was adamant that Britain would “not participate in any mandatory system of resettlement or relocation”. May argued that what she referred to as “economic migrants” willingly paid people – traffickers and risked death and she added that there should be “an active programme of returns”. The British government’s opposition to accepting mandatory quotas of those rescued from the Mediterranean has now also received support from France, Spain and several other EU countries. It will be recalled that the British government was also the leading opponent of sustained EU search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean last year, a stand that was condemned by human rights organisations.
Many commentators argue that the world is now in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. This is a crisis that emerges from the wars, instability and poverty created by the imperialist system of states and military and other forms of intervention by the governments of Britain and the other big powers. The current crisis in the Mediterranean must be seen in the context of the contention between the big powers over western Asia and Africa, and in particular the aim of the big powers of Europe to extend their hegemony over North Africa and the Sahel. What is evident is that those responsible for the crisis have no concern for those who are the victims of it. Rather, they use the crisis as the justification for further intervention and violation of sovereignty. Once again the times cry out for all democratic people in Britain and other European countries to take a stand, to fight for the rights of all and to step up the struggle to establish anti-war governments.