The Malta Independent 14 October 2019, Monday

Migration: The question no one is asking

Wednesday, 20 May 2015, 08:27 Last update: about 5 years ago

The EU seems hell bent on implementing its proposal to destroy smugglers’ boats in North Africa. On paper, it seems like a good idea, though it is a leap further from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s policy of buying junk ships from Indonesian smugglers to make it more worth their while than sending rickety and leaking ships out to sea.

The EU decided a show of force is necessary and that destroying the boats will remove the capability of people smugglers to send people over the sea to Europe. Many believe this to be a good idea, on paper. But many have also expressed reservations because rather than hitting smugglers’ boats, EU Air Forces might hit the boats of innocent fishermen who might be out at sea.

Some will argue that the solution is simple, a GPS ping device which could identify the vessels. But who would pay for these devices to be installed? When one considers that in all likelihood, attacks on boats would be performed by a mixture of drones and manned aircraft, the probability of collateral damage would be quite substantial.

So, we ask the question that no one seems to have yet asked. How are military aircraft, and more importantly drones, going to distinguish between an empty smugglers’ boat and one that has people locked in the hold? What will the EU’s mission statement be? Will boats be targeted in harbours? Or will they be targeted also when out at sea? If the latter is the case, then the risk of another human catastrophe will be great.

As we mentioned before, the issue of drones taking part could well cause many casualties. Drones are operated remotely and the pilots do not have ‘eyeball’ capability.

The EUobserver recently featured a news report, in which it said that it had seen an internal EU blueprint which stated that “a presence ashore”, including by “special forces” from participating states, “might be envisaged” for the sake of “seizure and/or physical destruction of smuggling-enabling assets (e.g. boats, fuel dumps, embarkation facilities)”.  It also warns that there is “a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life”.

Perhaps the idea of sending special forces in for infiltration and the destruction of assets could help matters, but it is already becoming clear that smugglers are ditching old boats for inflatables that can be set up in 20 minutes flat and pushed out to sea before anyone can get close to them. Destroying these boats would most likely mean certain death for migrants. The smugglers and social media and media savvy and will be following the EU’s every move. The use of human shields in this regard would be the first thing on their agenda – keep the missiles away by keeping the migrants close to the departure point.

It is a positive thing that the EU is finally taking the issue seriously, but we must not beget a catastrophe of our own doing. This idea needs to be thoroughly thought through. Otherwise, we will end up killing the very people whose lives we are meant to be saving.



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