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EU to Use Drones, Submarines to Combat Migrant Smugglers

Migrants rest after disembarking from the British assault ship HMS Bulwark at the Sicilian port of Catania after being rescued at sea, Italy, June 8, 2015.

The European Union will use submarines, warships, drones and helicopters in an operation to gather intelligence on gangs who smuggle thousands of asylum-seekers to Europe from Libya, officials said on Monday.

EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Luxembourg to launch the operation even though it will be limited to intelligence-gathering for now because it has yet to obtain U.N. authorization.

The operation is part of a stepped-up European response to a surge of migrants from Africa and the Middle East making the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe.

Mogherini speaks out

Speaking Monday at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it plans to gather information on smugglers’ activities in the high seas.

“The targets, let us be very clear, the targets are those who are making money on their lives and, too often, on their deaths. It is part of our effort to save lives,” said Mogherini.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year, many fleeing hunger or unrest in Africa and the Middle East. Many cross the Mediterranean sea on rickety boats operated by smugglers. Nearly 2,000 migrants have died or gone missing at sea.

The EU naval operation ultimately aims to capture and destroy smugglers’ ships - possibly in Libyan waters, as well. To go further, though, Europe first needs a U.N. Security Council resolution, along with the green light from the Libyan government.

Shelter, access

Unlike the naval operation, there is far less agreement in Europe about what to do with the migrants who have already arrived. EU member states are sharply divided over a quota plan for refugees and asylum seekers. Currently, Italy, Malta and Greece are shouldering most of the burden.

Acting Director for Amnesty International’s European Institutions office in Brussels, Iverna McGowan, is waiting for more action from the EU, in providing shelter and safe access for Syrian and other needy refugees.

“What we really need to look at is the fact that desperate people fleeing conflict and poverty are going to continue to come. And the European Union and its member states need to ensure that they have safe and legal routes into the European territories,” said McGowan.

EU officials say the first phase of the mission will focus on understanding who the smugglers are and how they operate.

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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