Austria and Hungary object to EU naval operation that could lure migrants to Europe

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Austria and Hungary have jointly voiced their objection to an EU proposed to launch a new naval mission known as Operation Irene, warning that it could serve as a lure for migrants seeking to enter Europe.

The goal of Operation Irene was to deploy European warships in the Mediterranean to ensure compliance with the UN arms embargo off the Libyan coast but there were worries that the warships would end up serving as rescue vessels for migrants.

Irene was first announced mid-February after the situation in Libya escalated, and international organizations argued that Europe needed to help Libya halt the flow of weapons into the country.

“Austria and Hungary want a veto to unilaterally stop the operation, should it rescue a refugee boat in distress, and then end the deployment of naval assets,” said the EU diplomat, who did not want to be named.

Another EU diplomat then disclosed that both countries asked for clearer time stamps on the mission’s mandate review.

When negotiations began, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell tried to stop any objections, voiced mainly by Italy and Austria. Previously, the EU ran Operation Sophia off the coast of Libya but a number of EU members objected to the operation after it proved attractive to migrants, many who risked the journey across the Mediterranean in the hopes that they would be rescued by EU naval vessels if they ran into trouble.

Based on the complaints by Italy’s then interior minister, Matteo Salvini, the EU cancelled Operation Sophia. Salvini was especially opposed to the number of migrants who were attempting to land in Italy.

Operation Irene was meant to have a narrower purview and only stick to the eastern coast of Libya where the most weapons are flowing through.

“This new operation will have as a goal to implement the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council,” said Borrell.

Within the initiative, ambassadors from all 27 EU countries met in Brussels on March 18 to discuss the proposal as the operation was set to begin in April, according to EU Observer.

According to a report from Politico in February, Borrell said that “Maritime assets will be withdrawn from the relevant areas” if they seem to be attracting migrants to make the journey to Europe on sea. However, such assurances did not appear enough to convince Austria or Hungary.

EU nations failed to reach an agreement after Austria pointed out that the presence of the EU warships in the Mediterranean could entice migrants fleeing Libya, providing a simple rescue route to migrants.

Similarly, Hungary opposed the operation, saying it shared the same concerns as Austria.

Although the countries failed to come to an agreement, there were several other scenarios on how to proceed, including the option to drop Operation Irene altogether.

However, the EU states will hold further talks today to find a compromise before the foreign affairs council next week.

Title image: In this Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 photo, the Italian Navy Giuseppe Garibaldi light aircraft carrier, seen from a helicopter, sails on the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Sicily, part of the European Union’s naval force Operation Sophia. Operation Sophia was launched to disrupt human smuggling operations in the Central Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Nicolae Dumitrache)

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