Big Guns v Small Boats: Britain’s suggestion for targeted destruction of traffickers’ boats at source appears simply another case of knee jerk reaction by the UK Government

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Some EU governments’ proposal for resolving the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean have been premised thus far, on the imperative to keep migrants away from Europe rather than, a desire to address root causes of the unfolding dilemma. The idea of applying lethal force to destroying ships belonging to traffickers will no doubt bring about short term benefits. In the long run, it does not offer a sustainable pathway to resolving the crisis.

Blog Post Migrant Crisis

On the one hand, Italy and Greece two of the most affected countries are promoting voluntary resettlements and dispersal of migrants across Europe. Under their proposals, migrants who survive the perilous boat trips to Europe are to be placed into refugee camps and from there dispersed further onward into European member states on a quota basis. Despite their best efforts at resolving the immediate challenges posed by the unwelcome migration, little thought appear to have been paid to the impact such a policy will have as a pull factor for illegal migration. Measures proposed so far have been long way away from a long-term, sustainable and effective solution to the crisis. It does appear simply as an express attempt to ‘unload’ camps in Italy and Greece due to the current financial pressures on both countries.

The British government expressed willingness to participate in operations which target and destroy smuggler boats. However, such an attempt to go around ports in Libya and elsewhere targeting ‘potential’ smugglers boats is under estimating the determination of potential migrants to escape their current lives of misery. It also ignores an important fact that traffickers are local entrepreneurs and criminal networks that will continue to find a way to respond to ‘market’ demands. Destruction of traffickers’ boats alone would not represent a sufficient dis-incentive for people who profit the most from the enterprise The boats themselves are unsophisticated, cheap and can be regularly replaced at minimum costs relative to the benefits to be gained. Further, destruction of boats by employing lethal force within sovereign nations raises both international law and humanitarian concerns.

States must agree (in the absence of war) for international forces to come within its territory, destroy properties belonging to its citizens, and engage in arrests/prosecution. It is difficult to foresee such levels of cooperation coming from Libya given its post Gadhafi dilemmas. The best alternative scenario appears to be cooperation between states to address the situation. It is essential if the crisis is to be stemmed successfully, that mainland Europe with Britain acting in consonance, convene an international forum on the issue and be available to learn from states where the migrants originate, as well as from southern European states bearing the brunt of the saga. Although Britain has not been affected by the crisis as much as Italy or Greece for example, the recent problems within the channel tunnel, where migrants invaded the tunnel exposed a severe security weakness. If one assumes most people crossing Mediterranean are economic migrants, it’s a no brainer that the ultimate destination of a lot of the migrants is Britain. By virtue of its relative economic success, Britain compared to its southern Europe neighbours must be interested in not just contributing meagre resources, but leading the fight against people traffickers by deploying its intelligence assets to infiltrating and incapacitating this trade in human misery.

Aiming big guns at the ‘other side’ potentially can be a repellent to the traffickers in the short run, however where situations in home countries that people are fleeing is comparatively more dire, the flow of people will hardly be affected in the long run. Investing in building coalitions, gaining perspectives from allies within migrant originating countries will enable a broader understanding of the reasons for which whole families decide to board such rickety boats in spite of the risks of death on the sea. Sustainable management of migration is a serious issue which needs to be addressed with careful analysis of all the relevant factors and, most importantly, understanding of factors which influence desperate decisions by migrant groups.

Whatever might be the core inducement for migrants to risk it all, it is important to analyse the issues with cool heads and respond with both short and long-term policy options. Tackling the issue of people smugglers through use of force can be a deterrent in the short term. Cooperation in the field of intelligence and surveillance is more likely to yield a positive result accompanied with other measures such as; targeting and disrupting the network of traffickers’ value chains locally, lobby host governments to criminalize people trafficking, and incentivise them to enforce such laws just as is the case with drugs smuggling and money laundering. Targeting aid support strategically, in line with a country’s outcomes on this particular milestone will lead to significant reductions in illegal migrant flows into Europe.