PARIS - Faced with calls for quick action after the deaths of hundreds of migrants on the Mediterranean this year, the European Union agreed Monday to set up a naval mission to crack down on smuggling rings at sea.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking after a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers, said she hoped the new naval mission in the Mediterranean will be established by next month.
“There is a clear sense of urgency in this respect. Also because we know very well that June is the beginning of summer and in this operation, seasons are important," she said. "As summer comes, more people are traveling, and I would like to have this operation in place as soon as possible.”
Targeting smugglers' boats off Libya coast
The operation aims to capture and destroy smugglers' boats off the coast of Libya - and the EU is seeking authorization from the United Nations to do so. Mogherini says it also means cooperation and action on the part of Libyan authorities.
“Because there is a responsibility that the European Union can take, but there is also a responsibility first of all that the Libyans themselves have to take, on their territory, on their borders, be they land or sea borders. So we are looking for partnership,” she said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attended the meeting and said extremist groups operating in Libya and elsewhere in the region are another part of the migration problem.
“One of the problems also is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists trying to hide, trying to blend in among the migrants,” he said.
The naval action is part of broader EU efforts to address the growing numbers of migrants trying to flee war and hunger in Africa and the Middle East. Nearly 50,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean for Europe this year; hundreds of others have died trying to do so.
The European Commission, the EU executive arm, has also announced plans to take in 20,000 more refugees over the next two years; but, a number of countries, including Britain, France and Poland, oppose the commission’s efforts to establish quotas for asylum seekers.