The Deadly Med: New EU Naval Mission of Libya to Intercept Irregular Migrants

Written by | Friday, February 21st, 2020

EU foreign ministers earlier in the week agreed in principle on a new mission – which would include naval assets – to monitor Libya’s UN arms embargo. The naval element had been a sticking point for some countries because of the possible incentive for migrants looking to reach Europe. “We all agreed to create a mission to block the entry of arms into Libya,” said Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio. The decision includes measures to address concerns that the presence of European ships in the Mediterranean Sea would create a “pull factor” for migrants looking to reach the European coasts from Libya.
The new EU mission will replace Operation Sophia, which was initially launched in 2015 to prevent irregular migrants from North Africa from reaching Europe, while also enforcing a UN arms embargo. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he was hopeful that the EU would be able to launch it by the end of March. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has doubled down on his calls for a European Union mission to enforce a UN arms embargo to Libya, saying concerns it could fuel migration to Europe were misplaced. “Those who are thinking primarily of migration issues … need to know that migration problems can be solved only if Libya does not remain a failed state,” Maas said.
Several countries, notably Austria, have objected to reviving the Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, arguing that ships involved in the mission had picked up migrants in distress at sea could encourage more people to set off from Libya by boat to seek a better life in Europe. Operation Sophia presently functions almost exclusively using aircraft and pilotless drones rather than ships. Since migration routes via Turkey to the Greek islands and through the Balkans have been made considerably more difficult for migrants, many now use the conflict-torn Libya as their starting point for the perilous Mediterranean voyage.

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