• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Experts warn against military response in Med

AFP · 23 Apr 2015, 08:42

Published: 23 Apr 2015 08:42 GMT+02:00

On Thursday, European leaders will gather in Brussels to discuss new strategies in the wake of the latest disaster on Sunday, in which hundreds of migrants drowned when their boat capsized on the way from Libya to Italy.

Much of the political rhetoric has focused on the people smugglers operating along the North African coastline, described by Italian Prime Minister Mateo Renzi as "the slave traders of the 21st century".

An initial EU ministerial meeting on Monday called for a "civil-military" response, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly considering the deployment of one of the country's biggest warships in a bid to "go after the criminal gangs".

But experts see any attempt to tackle the problem militarily as doomed to fail.

SEE ALSO: Med migrants could surge to 500,000

Photo by HO/Italian Navy/AFP

"This problem is totally unsolvable with military means," Alain Coldefy, a retired French admiral, told AFP.

"Politicians have on several occasions asked me the question of what could be done to stop this trafficking by force, and the response is simple: nothing," he said.

"Once these boats loaded with migrants have left Libyan waters, we can only apply international rules, which means rescuing people."

Marines are not trained or equipped to launch operations against these kind of boats, Coldefy added. Nor do they have an option of firing on them.

"They talk about capturing and destroying migrant boats, but presumably they will have people onboard, so they're not going to just shoot them out of the water," said Matt Carr, the British author of "Fortress Europe" about the continent's treatment of migrants.

"Others say the only way to stop them is to destroy all the boats in Libya, which is obviously non-sensical," he added.

"How do you know what is a good boat or bad boat? Many are just fishermen seizing on a chance to make a living."

Other options appear even more unrealistic. A blockade of the Libyan coast, for instance, would be tantamount to a declaration of war, said Coldefy, and would be blocked by Russia at the UN Security Council.

Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Smugglers only a symptom

European leaders face near-impossible choices on the migrant issue. More than 1,750 people have died already this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, yet many thousands more will still risk the journey to escape war and misery.

"The underlying issues are conflict, oppression and poverty - you can't resolve that with a ten-point plan from Brussels," said Andrew Geddes, a migration expert at the University of Sheffield in Britain.

"Smuggling has become big business, but it is a symptom not the cause."    

He said there are possible ways to mitigate disasters, but they require an unprecedented diplomatic effort.

Countries could work together to spread the burden of resettling refugees from war-torn areas such as Syria, he said, and offer temporary resettlement with a commitment to return to home countries when conditions improve.

'Protection' programme

"That might be more effective than a military response and if it was framed as a 'protection' programme, people in Europe might be more receptive," said Geddes.

Story continues below…

Australia has saved lives by taking a more robust military approach since 2013, with the navy turning back asylum seekers or sending them to offshore processing centres on Pacific islands.

But rights groups accuse Australia of flouting international law and say its policies are only shifting the problem to its neighbours, which many of Europe's North African neighbours would be unwilling or unable to emulate.

The deeper problem, say critics, is a generational failing by European politicians to face up to the scale of the challenge - a new reality in which huge numbers of refugees and economic migrants are on the move towards the West.

"Governments have not gone to the necessary effort to explain to their electorates why migration happens or find imaginative ways to deal with it," said Carr.

"Focusing on the smugglers is deceptive and hypocritical - it's a side issue. These smugglers only exist to help people evade restrictions that Europe has put in place. You're making smugglers into some kind of enemy to be attacked," he added.

"For years governments tried to criminalize migration, and now they're taking the next step. You are militarizing a humanitarian crisis."

SEE ALSO: Shipwreck survivors face deadening wait

Migrants stand at the Mineo centre in Sicily. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
100 people feared dead in Wednesday's shipwreck
Images taken of Wednesday's migrant shipwreck. Photo: Marina Miltare

Survivors of a fishing boat shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya on Wednesday said that some 100 migrants may have drowned, the International Organization of Migration said on Thursday.

Italian man lay dead in flat for 5 years before anyone noticed
The man's body was found at his home in Cagliari, Sardinia. Photo: Simon Frost

"Nobody questioned his disappearance, nobody went looking for him."

'20 to 30' people dead in new migrant shipwreck
The latest disaster comes two days after five people died while trying to make the crossing to Italy. Photo: Marinare Militare

Between 20 to 30 people have drowned in the latest migrant shipwreck off Libya.

Italians plea to adopt baby orphaned in migrant tragedy
Migrants await rescue off the Libyan coast on Wednesday. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

After the baby girl's parents died at sea, hundreds of Italians have asked to adopt the baby girl.

Purrfect: cat-filled beach is a top tourist spot in Sardinia
A remote Sardinian beach home to 60 cats, has been named one of Sardinia's best tourist attractions. Photo: I Gatti Su Pallosu

Visitors think the cat sanctuary near the tiny fishing hamlet of Su Pallosu is the cat's whiskers.

IN PICTURES
Huge sinkhole in city centre will cost Florence €5 million
Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

The accident is thought to be down to human error.

India allows accused Italian marine to go home
Italian marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (R) pictured in Kochi, India, in December 2012. Photo: Strdel/AFP

Under his new bail conditions, Salvatore Girone must return to Delhi within one month if the PCA rules that he face trial in India.

Striking pictures capture moment of migrant shipwreck

The operation wound up late on Wednesday without finding any further survivors or victims.

Two men jailed in Italy for social media terror threats
The threats were accompanied by photos of the monuments and written in Italian, French and Arabic. Photo: Jason Howie/Flickr

The two men had downloaded an online "manual" which covered the production of home-made explosives, carrying weapons and operating clandestinely on the internet.

Five migrants dead in shipwreck: Italian navy
500 people were pulled to safety and seven bodies recovered after a heavily crowded boat overturned off the Libyan coast. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

UPDATED: The navy said at least 550 people had been pulled to safety but added that the rescue operation was still underway and that the death toll could rise.

Did a Nazi official save Ponte Vecchio from destruction?
National
How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily
Travel
These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome
National
Why Italians are falling out of love with the EU
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Business & Money
Foreign, female and a self-made success in arduous Italy
National
How Italy's richest region is feeling the migrant strain
Culture
Rome mulls 'metro museum' after new line unearths ruin
National
Why Italy's facing a birth rate apocalypse
National
Why talk of barriers is opening up old wounds in South Tyrol
Culture
Huge Roman villa found under Amalfi church set to open
Travel
Two men kicked off plane in what captain calls 'racist act'
Meet the expats making a career out of Italian food
Society
'Staying single is why I'm the world's oldest person'
Travel
Where can you find the best beaches in Italy?
The ultimate guide to the insanity of driving in Italy
Travel
Eight of Rome's most tantalizing foreign food gems
Migrant arrivals in Italy top 30,000 for 2016: navy
Italy’s deadliest earthquakes over the last 100 years
Travel
US passports now need six months validity for Italy
Travel
Six incredible ways Italy profoundly changed my life
Society
Cheese, wine and family: the Italian way to live beyond 100
2,535
jobs available