The European Union (EU) task force in the Mediterranean is doing a “wonderful job” of rescuing illegal migrants at sea and escorting them to Europe, say French MPs, but failing to fulfil its primary role of tackling criminal people-smugglers.
“Today there are smugglers who put [migrant] boats in the water with just enough petrol to get out of Libyan waters, and they consider it is up to the military and civilian vessels outside the zone to pick them up,” argues Eric Ciot, speaking to Radio France Internationale.
Operation Sophia has rescued around 32,000 migrants but only arrested around 100 alleged people-smugglers and traffickers.
“Investing 12 million euros to arrest 100 people is a real problem,” contends Ciot.
The French MP’s assessment echoes the findings of a House of Lords report in 2016, which judged that Operation Sophia was “failing to disrupt people-smuggling”.
Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, who heads Operation Sophia, claims the people-smuggling trade is worth up to 325 million euros for Libyan locals, and the failed state’s feuding and rudimentary governments have opposed proposals to seriously tackle the issue in the past.
Western vessels do not intercept smuggler boats in Libyan waters, and although Libya’s coast guard, such as it is, receives training partly at the United Kingdom’s expense, it has an acknowledged problem with corruption.
Consequently, Mediterranean sea crossings are expected to hit “record levels” in 2017.
The European Union’s approach to illegal people-smuggling contrasts starkly with the methods adopted by Australian government, which adopted an uncompromising, “tough love” on illegal migration by sea in 2013.
Operation Sovereign Borders sees smuggler-boats intercepted at sea and migrants either turned back to their port of origin or transferred to offshore processing centres. Individuals deemed to be genuine refugees are rehomed in third countries at Australia’s expense, although some return to their homelands after being denied their country of choice.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced that it has been over 900 days since a smuggler boat reached Australia, which he hailed as “a remarkable achievement”.
“Look around the world at the grief and the turmoil that you’ve seen through lax border protection,” he said. “Australians must know that their government and their government alone determines who comes to Australia. That is their sovereign right. That is our sovereign right as a nation.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who introduced the current policy, noted in late 2016 that “Effective border protection is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations. The truly compassionate thing to do is: stop the boats and stop the deaths.”