European Union External Action

Operation Irini: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press point at the Sigonella Naval Air Station Airport

Sicily, 19/03/2021 - 18:03, UNIQUE ID: 210319_16

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Good morning,
It is a privilege for me to be here, in Sicily, and having had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Operation Irini yesterday in Rome and met the women and men who carry out the work of this Operation. It is a very important Operation for the European Union. All Member States contribute to this Operation – well, some more than others - providing personnel, assets – important aerial assets as we have seen today. This mission is working on the sea, on the air and watching also what is happening on land.
As you can imagine, for me it is an important opportunity to visit this mission and, later today, I will be on the sea, on a boat of the German navy. 
I think that the visit comes at a very important moment. It is one year of Operation Irini and the situation in Libya is much better than one year ago. One year ago we were very much afraid about the military operation. It was a big fight and Operation Irini had a lot of importance. Today it continues having a lot of importance, but the situation in Libya has changed very much for good.
The international community’s decision of controlling the arms embargo has helped to the stability in Libya. Today we see prospects for real peace. And frankly speaking, I could not have imagine that six months ago. I think that we have to praise the Libyans, because this has been done by the Libyans, with strong support of the United Nations and the European Union.  I know that they way is still long, it will continue requiring efforts. But there is a window of opportunity and it has to be taken, for the Libyans first, but also for everybody who is engaged in trying to make peace in Libya.
I want to praise the importance of Operation Irini and thank Italy for the strong support that it has been giving to this mission.
We need to advance on the path of reconciliation and we are the only ones who are active trying to fight against the flow of arms.
I have been explaining to the men and women in this Operation all the things that they have been doing. More than 2,000 hailings, 100 friendly approaches, 9 controls. This morning has been the ninth, the last one. Nothing suspicious has been found in this ship. It was a ship under the flag of Cameroon and the ship has been cleared to go to the destination. But we will continue monitoring the traffic on the Central Mediterranean.
[You can] have a look at the United Nations report that was issued yesterday. It is an interesting report explaining how much the arms embargo has been violated and also praising Operation Irini for its support.
Member States have also reaffirmed their commitment to Irini, the mandate of the Operation will be extended for two more years. I think it is a good sign of the commitment of the United Nations and the European Union to the peace in Libya.
Q. You just said that the mission could become a mission to implement the ceasefire in Libya.
Not this mission. Irini is about Irini, but if the United Nations requests European Union’s support, I am ready to take that into consideration and ask the Member States to do it. But it has to come from the United Nations and it has to be a completely new different mission.
Q. The Arms embargo is strictly related to the migrants issue, on that front we are in Sicily, we are the border of Europe. Sicilian institutions are often facing this alone. What can you tell us about that?
I know that migration is an important issue for all Europe. It is an even more important issue for Italy and it is an even more important issue for Sicily and Lampedusa. The closer you are to the problem, the bigger is the concern. Il vicino sente di più il problema. But we have to deal with the migration problem as a European problem. We have to make all Member States understand that they have to help to share the burden. 
And this is the purpose of the new Migration Pact that the Commission and also me as part of the Commission have been proposing to Member States, and the Member States are still discussing it. How do we manage solidarity among Member States? Among the ones who are far away from the problem geographically, that they do not feel the consequences, and the ones who are at the border, at the frontline. This is a European problem and we have to look for solutions to make solidarity effective, not just in rhetoric, but in practical terms.
But Irini has nothing to do with migration. When we launched Operation Irini, some Member States were afraid that Irini was going to create a kind of pull effect: ‘You send boats and the boats will attract migrants because if they know that there is a boat they will be saved by the boat’. And I had to spend a lot of time and political work to convince them that Irini could work to enforce the arms embargo without creating a pull effect.
And one year later thank god we have to recognise that this has been the case. Irini has not been involved in migrants issues, it has been doing its work: arms embargo and at the same time trying to help and train the Libyan coast guards to make the Libyan coast guards be a part of the solution to the problem. And from this point of view there is much more to do, and Irini is ready to increase its efforts in training the Libyan coast guards, providing assets and providing trainings.
Migration is an important problem for Italy, it is an important problem for Sicily, the solution has to come from Europe and we have to engage all Member States. I hope that the discussions that have taken place in Brussels will finally agree in an effective way on sharing the burden, trying to save lives, to fight against irregular migration, to fight against the smugglers and at the same time to open ways for regular migration. Because Europe as a whole needs migrants, but they have to come on a regular basis. Migration has to be regulated in order to be safe and fair.