British policy makers said that the European Union’s Mediterranean naval force “Sophia” has been a failure because it did not stop migrants from trying to reach the shores of Europe by the sea. Therefore, they suggest, it should stop operating in its current format. Operation Sophia was launched in 2015 with the aim to get rid of human trafficking and smuggling but its operations have been limited by Libya’s inability to let the EU vessels enter its territorial waters. Libya has been a stepping-stone for many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach the old continent through illegal crossings often operated by human traffickers and people smugglers.
British lawmakers have recently published a report on Operation Sophia and concluded that it was costly and ineffective. “People smuggling begins onshore, so a naval mission is the wrong tool for tackling this dangerous, inhumane and unscrupulous business. Once the boats have set sail, it is too late,” said Sandip Verma, chair of the committee that scrutinizes EU policies. “The key is to look at the economic difficulties of these countries and why (migrants) are leaving in the first instance, and how we can prevent people from wanting to make that treacherous journey,” Mr. Verma added.
Despite the dissatisfaction with the naval mission, the report said that the European Union should still pursue its humanitarian sea rescue operations using non-military vessels but also concluded that it would not be possible to end people smuggling without an operating and recognized Libyan government to work with. Since Operation Sophia was launched, it has arrested more than 100 smugglers, prevented 463 vessels from being re-used by smugglers and rescued around 38,000 people at sea. The naval operation was also involved in training Libyan navy coastguards to “improve security of Libyan territorial waters”.