The European Union is adopting a decidedly muscular approach to intercept the boats carrying migrants across the Mediterranean. It announced Wednesday the naval vessels will now “be able to board, search, seize, and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas.”
The decision, which the bloc says is in line with international law, is a shift from the EU’s policy of surveillance and rescue, and it comes as Europe is coping with the most severe migrant crisis since World War II. So far this year, more than 500,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to enter Europe. Of those, nearly 3,000 have died making the often-perilous journey.
The EU said its new mission will be called Sophia for the baby who was rescued with her mother off the coast of Libya in August. The mission will allow naval vessels to seize any vessel suspected to be carrying migrants. It’s the second phase of the naval operation, which was previously called EUNAVFOR Med.
It’s unclear if the EU’s maritime efforts will have the intended results. The bloc has been unable to find a consensus on how to cope with the flow of migrants, many of whom are headed to Germany, which announced over the summer that it was suspending the bloc’s usual rules for asylum-seekers. Those rules mandate that asylum-seekers register in the first country they enter. The decision contributed not only to the increased flow of migrants, but also to some of the most-bitter divisions among states like Germany, which has opened its doors to the asylum-seekers, and Hungary, which has not.
The crisis is expected to be discussed when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande address the European Parliament on Wednesday.
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