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UK parliamentary report: "failed" Operation Sophia has caused more deaths, EU should "combat irregular migration" in southern Libya
12.7.17
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A UK parliamentary committee has said in a new report that it sees "little reason to renew the mandate of Operation Sophia", the EU's anti-migrant smuggling mission in the Mediterranean, when it comes up for renewal at the end of July.

According to the report by the House of Lords European Union Committee, the operation "has not in any meaningful way deterred the flow of migrants, disrupted the smugglers’ networks, or impeded the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route," while an "unintended consequence" of the mission "has been that the smugglers have adapted, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to an increase in deaths."

Figures included in the report state that in 2015, 2,876 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean; in 2016, 4,581; and in 2017 to 2 July, 2,150.

A report by Amnesty International last week reached similar conclusions to those of the committee, with the organisation noting that: "EU governments have shifted their focus to disrupting smugglers and preventing departures of boats from Libya: a failing strategy that has led to ever more dangerous crossings and a threefold increase in the death-rate from 0.89% in the second half of 2015 to 2.7% in 2017."

While the European Union Committee of the House of Lords is not in favour of continuing Operation Sophia, it does argue for undertaking planning for "a new Common Security and Defence Policy mission to combat irregular migration on the southern border," which could be launched "as and when the political and security conditions in Libya allow."

The recommendation that Operation Sophia be ended runs counter to proposals made by the European External Action Service in a restricted document recently published by Statewatch, which called for the military mission, as well as the EU Border Assistance Mission to Libya (currently based in Tunis) and the work of the EU Planning and Liaison Cell (based in Brussels) to be extended until December 2018.

The European Union Committee's report also says:

"We are concerned by reports of serious abuses of the human rights of migrants by the Libyan coastguard. We ask the Government to provide us with its assessment of the extent to which the human rights elements of Operation Sophia’s training packages are likely to improve the treatment of migrants by the Libyan coastguard."

The Committee hopes that the report "will feed into the consideration by the Government and EU Members States of their approach to tackling migration on the central Mediterranean route."

See: House of Lords European Union Committee: Operation Sophia: a failed mission (pdf)

Press coverage

EU naval mission leads to more migrant drownings, says report (EUobserver, link):

"The EU naval operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, which aims to crack down on people smugglers, has resulted in an upsurge of deaths, according to a UK parliamentary report.

The inquiry, published on Wednesday (12 July) by the cross-party House of Lords, says Sophia's sinking of boats has led to smugglers sending people on more unseaworthy vessels "resulting in more deaths at sea."

The military naval mission has, so far, removed over 420 boats from the sea and apprehended 109 smugglers and traffickers since late 2015. Around 2,206 people have died in the attempt to cross from Libya towards Italy since January 2017."

EU-UK naval mission on people-smuggling led to more deaths, report says (The Guardian, link):

"The report by the Lords’ EU external affairs sub-committee says the bloc’s naval operation has failed in its mission to disrupt the business of people-smuggling in the central Mediterranean and its mandate should not be renewed. The initiative has had little impact on the flow of irregular migrants, which reached its highest level yet in 2016 with 181,436 arriving in Europe by this route.

However, the peers say its search and rescue work, which has involved saving the lives of more than 33,830 people since its inception, should continue.

Lady Verma, the committee chair, said that as people-smuggling began onshore a naval mission was the wrong tool for tackling a dangerous, inhumane and unscrupulous business: “Once the boats have set sail, it is too late,” she said."

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