Migrants' Rights Network
EU Med mission saves lives but has not stopped people-smuggling

EU Med mission saves lives but has not stopped people-smuggling

The EU-led Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea has failed, a UK House of Lords’ committee has found. The mission has only led to soaring of illegal migrant flows to Europe and “tragic increase in deaths” at sea.

The committee concludes that “a naval mission is the wrong tool to tackle irregular migration” as the latter starts onshore. The report says that “once the boats have set sail, it is too late to undermine the business of people smuggling.”

The destruction of vessels, which was one of the mission’s tasks, led to “an unintended consequence” – the smugglers started to send those willing to reach European coast aboard “unseaworthy vessels.

” This has only increased the risk for migrants, as “70 percent of all boats leaving the Libyan coast contributes to making journeys increasingly dangerous,” leading to “a tragic increase in deaths,” which is 2,150 as of 2 July.

Key findings

  • Operation Sophia has failed to achieve its objective of “contributing to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”.
  • An unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s destruction of smugglers’ boats has been that they have adapted, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, resulting in more deaths at sea.
  • A unified government in Libya, able to provide security across the country, is a precondition for meaningful EU action against people smuggling networks onshore. Political and security conditions in Libya are unlikely to improve sufficiently to allow onshore operations by the EU any time soon. There is therefore little reason to renew the mandate of Operation Sophia, but the search and rescue work, which has saved the lives of many people, should continue, using more suitable vessels.
  • Operation Sophia vessels have rescued over 33,000 people since the inception of the mission.
  • The number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route increased by around 42% in 2016. There have been 2,150 recorded deaths to date in 2017.
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