According to a secret document released on 25 May 2015 by Wikileaks the EU is in the process of implementing a plan for the use of military force in order to deal with the growing refugee influx from Libya to Europe via the Mediterranean. The plan devised by the EU Politico-Military Group aims to "disrupt human smuggling networks" and "to contribute to systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers".
Given the turbulent nature of Libya in the aftermath of the NATO - sponsored overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, how yet more European military intervention is going to affect the situation on the ground is unclear. This, in turn leads to the problems of identifying "traffickers" (as the document calls those taking migrants to Europe) in a fluid, often violent civil conflict in which different factions are vying for advantage. It is all too easy in these cases to be misled by groups hoping to use European military force to even the odds by way of air strikes. As the West's debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan, shows ignorance of local history, customs and political realities is often fatal for civilians.
Yet even if EU manages to avoid the mistakes of the past it is hard to imagine how such actions will do anything more than temporarily limit numbers from Libya. The operations are being marketed as a way of saving refugees from the dangers of a taking a route which has cost the lives of thousands, but refugees are perfectly aware of the risks they take when crossing the Mediterranean. With the expansion in ownership of smart phones worldwide, modern refugees can often contact home via services such as Viber and Facebook, so ensuring valuable, potentially life saving information can be shared. Faced with the choice of drowning on a leaky vessel and going back to the war torn homes they fled, they are opting for the former, given the fact the EU immigration rules have given very little chance of choosing a safer alternative.
Even if, by some miracle European war planes/ships do manage to target just smuggler ships what exactly happens to those intercepted in international waters? Will they be forced back to Libya, fired upon if the crew refuses to heed warnings, foisted off on some third nation's territory following Australia's example?
Should this measure work then the next step would be the switch to smaller, less easily detected vessels even less suitable for making a long sea crossing and hence we have the possibility that a successful interdiction policy will lead to even more drownings of men, women and children in the Mediterranean, now the most dangerous stretch of water for refugees in the world. Alternatively, the flow of those willing to risk all for a better life will be channelled elsewhere to places such as Spain and Greece whose close proximity by sea to other non-EU nations make them impossible to seal off unless the most draconian of war time precautions are employed.
Already, Greece has become a transit spot and many unable to fly or use other forms of transport are walking across the Balkans in order to reach places such as Germany and Holland. In cities in the north the parks are now temporary home to groups, often composed of families with young children taking a short break before continuing their arduous trek north (see previous post). In an era when air travel has become more affordable than ever before we are faced with the sight of groups of people attempting to cross a continent on foot.
On a deeper, more moral level the idea of using military action in a humanitarian crisis is a symptom of a malaise in Europe, instead of providing aid and relief to those fleeing war, poverty and other disasters in places such as Syria and Yemen The EU, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, is authorising the use of force against some of the poorest and most desperate people on the planet.
The deliberate conflation of the terms "smuggling" and "trafficking" by European politicians and mainstream media outlets is part of the current media strategy aimed at legitimising military action to deal with, what in essence is a refugee crisis. The idea is that people who smuggle others (angels by no means|) over a border are the same as those who are little more than modern day slavers.This, itself the product of the hardening of attitudes to newly arrived migrants, minorities and other groups of the poor who have suffered the brunt of austerity measures implemented since the 2008 financial crisis. Often the poorest are pitted against each other in a bitter fight for basic resources such as employment, health care and housing
Attitudes to immigration, once the preserve of far right fringe groups such as the ultra-right British National Party are now to be considered respectable enough to be part of mainstream political discourse and even worse are becoming the basis for initiatives that remind us of the darker days of Europe's recent past.