After nine months of “Operation Sophia”, a damning report has revealed that the naval operation David Cameron promised would “smash” the gangs smuggling migrants to Europe has not just failed but is actively helping the criminal gangs.
Operating outside European coastal waters the mission, which aimed to disrupt the smugglers’ business model, turned into a “search and rescue” exercise with “no meaningful impact” on the trade.
The only result of the £9.3 million European Union (EU) plan has been to ferry more than 9,000 migrants who set off from Libya to travel to Europe.
Just 50 smugglers have been arrested since “Operation Sophia” began last June, all of whom have been low-level targets whose capture has had no impact on the overall smuggling trade.
Since the EU operation was launched, 80 of the vessels used for smuggling have been seized and destroyed. In response, smugglers have changed tactic, swapping wooden fishing boats for dinghies bulk bought from China.
The dinghies are flimsy and prone to sinking but with multiple EU boats patrolling the area smugglers and their migrant cargo need only to reach the high seas to be assured a lift direct to Europe – courtesy of the continent’s taxpayers.
Effectively, Operation Sophia’s seizure of the original smuggling vessels has made the smuggling business cheaper, easier and therefore more lucrative for the criminal gangs.
The Daily Mail reported that British Royal Navy ships alone delivered 7,767 of the 9,000 migrants picked up in waters near Libya to Europe.
Prepared by a cross-party group of peers, the report praised the operation’s “success” as a “search and rescue mission”, calling it a “vital humanitarian obligation”, but determined that:
‘The mission does not… in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route”.
“Operation Sophia does not, and, we argue, cannot deliver its mandate,” the House of Lords report found.
The report, titled “Operation Sophia: An Impossible Challenge”, states that the main factor hampering the mission’s success is Libya’s lack of a stable government.
Almost a million people, mostly from safe but poor sub-Saharan African nations, are thought to be waiting in the North African country hoping to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.