The European Union is planning to take military action against refugee transport networks in the Mediterranean, according to leaked documents published by Wikileaks Monday.
“The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure,” Wikileaks said in a statement.
“It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe,” the whistle-blower website summarized.
The revelations were contained in two classified documents, with the plan being approved by representatives of all 28 EU member states on May 18.
One of the documents admitted the project had no clearly defined “political end state” – effectively an admission that policy makers were considering a large-scale military operation without a clear end goal.
The documents also secretly admitted the plan could lead to deaths, and suggested the EU devise a media strategy to counter bad publicity or a public outcry.
In one leaked document, the European Union Military Committee — led by the member states' defense ministers — suggested, “Military information operations should be an integral part of this EU strategy.”
“Information operations” is a technical term for military operations including propaganda and psychological warfare.
“The EUMC notes that the information strategy should avoid suggesting that the focus is to rescue migrants at sea but emphasize that the aim of the operation is to disrupt the migrants smuggling business model,” the document says.
The ministers added that the operation could involve threats to EU forces, “especially during activities such as boarding and when operating on land or in proximity to an unsecured coastline, or during interaction with non-seaworthy vessels.”
“The potential presence of hostile forces, extremists or terrorists such as Da'esh (the Islamic State group) should also be taken into consideration,” the EUMC said.
WikiLeaks pointed out, “The documents mark a departure from previous EU military strategy in its overt targeting of civilian infrastructure in Libya.”
In 2011 a number of EU member states were involved in a military intervention in Libya, which supporters claimed was aimed at protecting civilians. Human rights groups say civilian casualties potentially caused by NATO forces during the initial intervention have largely gone un-investigated by Western nations. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the militia fighting that has gripped Libya since the ousting of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Humanitarian groups say the unrest has exacerbated the Mediterranean's refugee crisis. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 15,000 migrants have made the perilous journey from the North African coastline to Europe since the start of 2015. Most migrant vessels depart from Libya's lawless coastline, and carry people fleeing violence or oppression in countries across Africa and the Middle East.
“Among the arrivals there are a growing number of sub-Saharan migrants,” explained Federico Soda, the IOM’s Regional Director for the Mediterranean.
“Some of them always had the goal of reaching Europe. Others decided to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean after having lived for months or even years in Libya, a country that has become too dangerous, particularly for labor migrants from West Africa,” Soda said.