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EU seeks UN support to tackle migrant smuggling

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has pleaded for UN help to dismantle criminal groups smuggling migrants into the European Union.

“We need to count on your support to save lives,” she told a Security Council briefing on EU plans to use force against smugglers.

Libya, where many smugglers operate, has objected to the EU proposals.

More than 1,800 people are feared to have died this way in 2015 – a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.

Some 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean this year, the UN estimates.

Many of the migrants are fleeing conflict or poverty in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia.

Speaking in New York on Monday, Ms Mogherini said the EU’s first priority was to “save lives and prevent further loss of lives at sea”.

She outlined proposals agreed by EU governments last month. These include:

  • reinforcing search and rescue efforts
  • tripling financial resources for this purpose over the next two years
  • disrupting smuggling networks and bringing the perpetrators to justice
  • efforts to identify, capture and destroy their vessels.

The EU must seek UN approval in order to establish a clear legal basis for any military operation in Libyan territorial waters. It is as yet unclear what shape military action could take.

Ms Mogherini reiterated that “no refugees or migrants intercepted at sea will be sent back against their will”.

On Wednesday, the EU is also expected to propose a quota system for distributing asylum seekers between EU members, along with plans to increase legal means for migrants to come to Europe so that they do not turn to smugglers.

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