The European Council on Tuesday (25 July) extended the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean, despite concerns that Operation Sophia has not been effective in breaking up people-smuggling networks.
The mandate of EUNAVFOR MED, also known as Operation Sophia, was on Tuesday extended by 18 months until December 2018, as the United Nations-approved mission continues to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking in the Mediterranean.
Despite a damning report produced by the UK’s House of Lords earlier this month that insisted the mission should not continue in its current form, the Council unanimously decided to extend Sophia’s mandate and even approved some additional objectives.
Operation Sophia will now include a monitoring mechanism designed to improve the training of the Libyan coastguard, which was already a part of its mandate. It will also carry out increased surveillance in order to help cut down on illegal oil exports, while Frontex and Europol will be more involved in data sharing.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “As a matter of priority, we will start in the coming days the revision of the operational plan in order to include the new tasks.”
Operation Sophia started life as a simple search and rescue mission. The House of Lords report and Mogherini herself have acknowledged its success in this regard and highlighted the more than 30,000 people that have been saved by the joint effort.
But the operation is now in a phase that includes extra measures to break the smuggler networks, including the destruction of vessels used to ship people across the Med to Europe. It has been reported that this has pushed more and more people to attempt to make the crossing in unseaworthy craft.
There is scope for Sophia to enter a third phase, where participating member states would be allowed to enter Libyan waters to tackle the smugglers at source on the coast. But this requires a fresh UN mandate or an invitation from the country’s government.
Ireland recently became the latest EU member to join the mission, after its parliament decided to back a proposal to up its involvement in the Mediterranean from just rescue operations.
More than 100,000 people have attempted the perilous sea voyage so far this year, many in flimsy rubber dinghies and overcrowded boats.
In a further effort to try and stem the flow of people across the water, the EU on 17 July adopted measures that will see dinghy and outboard motor sales to Libya curbed. But the ministerial level decision has attracted criticism about how it will be enforced and how it will affect legitimate trade.