The German government has admitted that “Operation Sophia”, which rescues migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, has actually benefitted people smugglers and their business.
The government said the naval operation which has rescued thousands over the past year is being taken advantage of by people smugglers to ensure migrants reach Europe. The smugglers “calculate the ships sailing in the sea into their Modus Operandi” because under maritime law in international waters the ships are required to provide help, Der Standard reports.
“The federal government is looking with concern as to how people traffickers align their business model to the sea rescue,” the government added.
Operation Sophia began in June 2015. Twenty-five different countries have coordinated to rescue 22,641 migrants with the German navy rescuing 9,455 alone. 351 migrant boats were sunk by the mission after rescues, with migrants then being sent on to Europe.
Many have criticised the fact that Operation Sophia has become a “ferry service” for migrants rather than bringing them back to North Africa. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson slammed the methods used by Operation Sophia saying, “I think personally they should be turned back as close to the shore as possible so they don’t reach the Italian mainland and there’s more of a deterrent effect”.
Aside from national navies, there are other groups involved with rescuing migrants at sea. One of these organisation is the non-profit Doctor’s without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières/MSF). After being accused of colluding with people smugglers by the European Union (EU) border agency Frontex, MSF hit back saying the EU had engaged in cruelty toward migrants.
Around 180,000 migrants came to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, a record number of them landing in Italy. A recent EU conference in Malta addressed the issue with various leaders agreeing the Libyan route must be closed as soon as possible.
A ten-point plan was agreed by the EU leaders to shout down the route, which will include a more active role for the Libyan coast guard in intercepting migrant ships.
The Italian government has also announced there will be a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal migration. This includes increasing pressure to deport illegals back to their countries of origin.
Despite the policy change by the Italians, the situation has remained largely the same. Earlier this week, the Italian coastguard rescued 1,500 migrants in only two days and brought them to Italy.