EU diplomats call for changes to Operation Sophia so "chances to conduct rescue operations are lower"


The European External Action Service (EEAS) has called on EU governments to limit the saving of lives at sea by Operation Sophia. A note sent to the member states' permanent representatives in Brussels says the mission should prioritise the enforcement of a UN arms embargo on Libya, rather than monitoring migrant smuggling activities, and suggests that ships could be placed "at least 100km off the Libyan coast, where chances to conduct rescue operations are lower."

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See: Meeting of the Council (Foreign Affairs) on 17 February 2020 - Preparation c) Libya (5995/20, EU RESTRICTED, 12 Februray 2020, pdf)

The issue is being discussed today by the EU Foreign Affairs Council, where there will be an "exchange of views" on Libya.

Operation Sophia has long had a mandate to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, but its primary purpose since being established in 2015 has been:

"to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers, in order to contribute to wider EU efforts to disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean and prevent the further loss of life at sea."

However, since March 2019 it has not had any boats to deploy due to objections from the Italian government over "rescued migrants being landed in its ports."

The mission continued, using "aerial assets" - drones, planes and helicopters - alone.

The EEAS note insists that naval assets are "indispensable to signal the credible commitment and presence of the EU. Without naval assets, the operational effect and political impact will remain limited, and will be assessed as such by other actors."

The document also states:

"Objections have been raised by some Member States, according to which the re-deployment of naval assets would act as ‘pull factor’ and lead to an increase of irregular migrants entering into Europe. It must be noted that, the migratory flow through the Central Mediterranean substantially decreased between 2016 and 2019, while Operation Sophia’s naval assets were still fully deployed. Migratory pressure would be better alleviated in a medium to long-term if the EU successfully contributes to the stabilisation of Libya."

According to the EEAS, if no action is taken, "the EU will become irrelevant and others will continue to determine the development of events in Libya in ways that will not respond to our interests."

Further reading

EU officials push for bloc to enforce Libya arms embargo (The Washington Post, link)

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