The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to renew the authorization for the European Union naval force and other nations to fight human trafficking in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya.
The resolution adopted Wednesday authorizes regional organizations and countries to inspect and seize vessels on the high seas being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya until Oct. 3, 2019.
French diplomat Antoine Michon said the force has played an important role "in breaking the networks of human traffickers," noting that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this has saved tens of thousands of lives every year, as reported by The Associated Press. "Trafficking in human beings, fed by economic instabilities, exacerbated the already fragile situation in Libya," he said. Michon stressed the council's decision last June to impose sanctions against six traffickers.
As the EU has yet to find a common ground or policy for saving the lives of migrants at sea, a human rights group accused EU member states for an increase in the Mediterranean migrant death toll.
The journey by land through the Sahara and then across the Mediterranean remains the world's deadliest migration route, and as polarizing as ever in European politics. Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also the head of the far-right League and a prominent member of the new Italian government, is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports. He also argues that European countries should find a way to block the migrants before they leave Africa or send boats with asylum seekers back to the ports where they came from, including to Libya's harbors. Besides Italy, governments in Austria and central Europe argue that the EU can only bring migration under control by closing its borders to new arrivals, while opposing efforts to redistribute asylum seekers within the bloc.
The number of migrants reaching the EU has in fact dropped sharply since the height of the crisis in 2015 when more than a million arrived from the Middle East and Africa, mostly by sea from Turkey to Greece and then overland across the Balkans. That route was largely shut by a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey. The other main route, the frequently deadly crossing from North Africa to Italy, remains open, but numbers have declined substantially in the past year as Libyan armed factions have cut down on people smuggling. Still the issue remains sharply divisive across Europe.
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