Will EU launch migrant rescue missions?

Development minister Gerd Müller urged action both in the Mediterranean and in Libya

Germany's development minister has urged the EU to launch missions to rescue migrants both in the Mediterranean and "on Libyan soil." In an interview with regional newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Gerd Müller accused the European Union of turning a blind eye to the crisis and called for immediate action. Politico in the article German minister calls on EU to launch migrant rescue missions writes that the EU's maritime mission Operation Sophia — launched in 2015 and designed to disrupt people-smuggling networks off the Libyan coast — was never a formal search-and-rescue program.

However, under U.N. maritime conventions, sailors are legally required to assist endangered vessels, and as such, over 49 000 migrants were rescued by EU operatives between June 2015 and February 2019.  In March 2019, EU diplomats extended Operation Sophia for another six months but recalled the bloc's naval assets, effectively ending the rescue component of the initiative. Meanwhile, NGO-run rescue ships in the Mediterranean are facing increased difficulties as states such as Italy have begun to refuse access to their waters and ports.

"A joint humanitarian initiative by Europe and the United Nations to save refugees on Libyan soil is needed," he said. "The new EU Commission must act immediately. We cannot wait one day longer." Müller added that people held in Libyan camps faced the prospect of "dying in the camps as a result of violence or hunger, dying of thirst in the desert on the way back or drowning in the Mediterranean."

He also called for the European Commission to launch a new sea rescue program — if necessary without unanimous agreement from EU member states — saying that the EU had stopped paying attention to the situation since the end of Operation Sophia.

"But do we want to allow the Mediterranean to become the sea of death for good while we look away? The new EU Commission must start a new initiative here too to support the Mediterranean states, and can no longer wait for the agreement of all EU members," he said. Müller is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. The Bavarian party has taken a tough stance on migration in the past, but CSU politician and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Saturday called on his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini to allow rescue ships to dock.  "I urgently appeal to you to rethink your stance of not wanting to open Italian ports," Seehofer wrote in a letter to Salvini, according to German media reports.

ФОТО Development minister Gerd Müller urged action both in the Mediterranean and in Libya