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Britain awaits UN permission to seize migrant boats

Published 08/10/2015

Migrants and refugees on a boat from Zuwarah in Libya bound for Italy (Migrant Voice UK/PA)
Migrants and refugees on a boat from Zuwarah in Libya bound for Italy (Migrant Voice UK/PA)

Britain is expecting the United Nations to give the European Union and other countries the green light to board and seize vessels off Libya that are used to smuggle migrants or for human trafficking.

Matthew Rycroft, Britain's UN ambassador, said he hoped for a high number of Yes votes on the draft UN Security Council resolution, which could take place this week.

A letter from Libya's UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi to the security council dated October 6 says "Libya is no longer objecting to the language and content of the draft resolution on the smuggling of migrants", including its drafting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can be militarily enforced.

But Russia's deputy ambassador Petr Iliichev told reporters "we still have concerns" about the proposed resolution. Several African countries also objected to the resolution being drafted under Chapter 7.

The 15 council nations were originally given until 6pm on Wednesday to object to the final draft, but diplomats said that procedure was postponed until Thursday.

The final draft, obtained by The Associated Press, would authorise the EU and individual nations to board vessels "with a view to saving the threatened lives of migrants or of victims of human trafficking" and to seize the vessels.

The original draft would have authorised the destruction of the vessels, but the final draft states that any action on disposal of a seized vessel must be taken in accordance with international law "with due consideration of the interests of any third parties who have acted in good faith".

The draft resolution would allow the search and seizure operation for one year, only on the high seas off the coast of Libya.

It underscores that the resolution's intention is to disrupt "organised criminal enterprises engaged in migrant smuggling and human trafficking and prevent loss of life", not to prevent individuals from exercising their human rights or prevent them from seeking protection.

The draft resolution would authorize the EU or member states "to use all measures commensurate to the specific circumstances in confronting migrant smugglers or human traffickers."

It says migrants "should be treated with humanity and dignity". Diplomats said migrants on vessels that are searched and seized would be taken to Italy.

The EU initially wanted a naval operation to be able to search, seize and destroy smuggler vessels on the high seas, in Libyan territorial waters and along its coast. But that would require agreement from its government.

At the moment the oil-rich North African country is divided between an elected parliament and government based in the eastern port city of Tobruk and an Islamist militia-backed government in the capital Tripoli - with militants from the Islamic State (IS) group also exploiting the chaos.

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