UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday authorizing the European Union and individual countries to seize migrant-smuggling vessels on the high seas off Libya for another year.
The resolution, adopted by a vote of 14-0 with Venezuela abstaining, stressed that the council’s aim is “to disrupt the organized criminal enterprises engaged in migrant smuggling and human trafficking and prevent loss of life.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said after the vote that he wanted to make clear that the EU’s Operation Sophia “is only targeting smugglers and empty boats.” He said migrants found during the operation are taken to Europe.
Since the U.N. authorized the interdictions in October last year, Rycroft said, the Operation Sophia flotilla has directly apprehended 90 suspected smugglers and has made over 300 smuggling vessels unusable.
The EU operation is also estimated to have rescued over 26,000 people, he said.
“But the smuggling networks have not been defeated,” Rycroft stressed.
“The migration crisis remains one of our greatest shared challenges,” he said. “Thousands have perished crossing the Mediterranean and thousands more continue to risk their lives to find a safer future. And so many, perhaps all of them, have been exploited.”
Rycroft said action against smugglers on the high seas is only part of the solution and he urged all countries to do more to tackle the root causes of migration including poverty, conflict and human rights abuses. He said more must also be done to help countries hosting refugees.
Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Rafael Ramirez, who also abstained on last year’s resolution, said his government had the same objection — the crisis requires a broader approach.
The resolution authorizes the EU and other states to inspect vessels off Libya’s coast that they have reasonable grounds to believe are engaged in migrant smuggling — provided they make “good faith efforts to obtain the consent” of country whose flag the vessel is flying. And it authorizes the seizure of those confirmed as being used for migrant smuggling.
The council underscored that the resolution “is not intended to undermine the human rights of individuals or prevent them from seeking protection under international human rights law and international refugee law.” And it emphasized that “all migrants, including asylum seekers, should be treated with humanity and dignity and that their rights should be fully protected.”