Migrant Crisis

Europe's Conflicted Gunboat Diplomacy

Migrants reach Crete Nov dpa
A group of migrants who were rescued near Crete.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If people smugglers start attacking European Union vessels in the Mediterranean, the seas will become more dangerous for everyone.

  • Facts


    • Next week the European Union officially begins its joint naval mission in the Mediterranean.
    • According to the International Organization for Migration there are currently nine naval vessels in the Mediterranean.
    • The E.U. has created an ad hoc navy before, which was successful in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
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In February, Italian coast guards rescued 1,000 migrants from a leaky, unseaworthy boat in the Mediterranean.

As they were towing the empty boat, men brandishing Kalashnikov rifles sailed from the Libyan coast to reclaim their vessel. The Italians offered no resistance and the attackers sailed off with the boat. In April, the Italians coast guards were attacked again from Libya.

Next week, the European Union officially begins a joint naval mission in the Mediterranean. It has three contradictory goals: To help secure Europe’s coastal borders and stop illegal migrants coming through; to rescue migrants as they attempt the perilous sea crossing, and to destroy the vessels of smugglers transporting people for money into unsafe waters.

But Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the European sea border patrol operation, which is called Frontex, said he expects these E.U. forces to have another role: Providing extra security for the E.U. coast guards.

“Perhaps we will see more of these in the future,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday in Berlin. “We may need the protection of the military. Of course this is not our main priority.”

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