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The European Union launches Operation IRINI in order to enforce the Libya arms embargo
EUNAVFOR MED Operation IRINI, which follows on from Operation Sophia and aims to enforce the arms embargo imposed upon Libya, got underway on 1st April.
Whereas the main goal of the Sophia mission, launched in June 2015, was to offer a response to European migratory issues, including combating human trafficking, the aim of the new operation – which means “peace” in Greek – is to help to monitor the Libya arms embargo demanded by the United Nations in order to bring about a ceasefire in the country. It is set to last for a renewable period of one year after being officially approved by the European Council on 31st March and employs air, satellite and maritime resources. Its secondary tasks are to monitor illegal oil exports, to train Libyan coastguards and to play a part in the “disruption” of the economic model used by the human trafficking networks via the gathering of information and the deployment of air patrols.
Unlike Operation Sophia, the goal of the IRINI mission does not lie in the potential rescuing of people attempting to reach Europe from Libya at sea. Indeed, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, underlined that its scope does not cover the whole of the Libyan coastline but is limited “to the east, where the arms are actually being trafficked”. Even though ahead of the mission’s launch he specified that it would be suspended immediately if there were to be an increase in the number of migrant boats in the area given the presence of new European vessels, the question of potential landing sites in Europe has aroused some debate. During the negotiations, Italy had categorically refused to allow any arrivals at her ports, and it was finally following Greece’s agreement that the operation could be launched.
Human rights organisations are concerned about the consequences of a lack of military rescue services in the Mediterranean Sea. Back in February Philippe Dam, advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, accused the European Council “of giving the EU a licence to let people die”, miles away from “the letter and the spirit of international maritime law”. Josep Borrell feels that “the IRINI [mission] is not the solution, but a part of [it]”; he believes that this new operation is all the more important because fighting on Libyan soil has intensified over the last few weeks.
The initial phase of the mission was not launched until 4 May, although overflights of the area of operation had already taken place by the end of April. The first ships were provided by Italy, Greece and France, the latter also contributing to the mobilisation of the first aircrafts, together with Germany, Luxembourg and Poland.