The European Union has been accused of letting migrants and refugees die in the Mediterranean with the aim of curbing migration. It has been reported that the EU has downgraded its maritime rescue missions at sea. Operation Sophia, the pinnacle of the EU’s rescue operations, has helped save tens of thousands lives since its launch in 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis. The EU mission sought to disrupt people traffickers and rescue migrants trying to reach Europe by crossing from North Africa in poor-quality vessels.
EU leaders said that Operation Sophia would no longer carry out maritime patrols after Rome refused to carry on receiving those rescued at sea. Instead, it will use air patrols and closer cooperation with Libya, Brussels said. The decision has been criticized by non-profits, charities and human rights groups, which said cancellation of rescue missions would ultimately lead to more deaths in the Mediterranean. “It shows again that the EU considers it acceptable to let people die at sea as a deterrence for migration,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, of Doctors Without Borders, which until recently operated its own rescue mission.
Ms. Hadj-Sshraoui also pointed out that the EU was relying more on the Libyan coastguard, which is, however, poorly equipped and not very responsive to distress calls. Amnesty International commented that the move was an “outrageous abdication of EU governments responsibilities”. Operation Sophia has rescued almost 50,000 people, the EU says, and while the number of newcomers has been on the decline, more than 11,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean since January and almost 2,300 people died last year trying to make it to Europe.