1 October 2015

The European Union’s naval mission against human smugglers becomes operational next week, after getting a green light from the EU Council’s Political and Security Committee on 27 September. ECRE and several other civil society organisations fear that this military operation can lead to refugees and migrants taking even more dangerous routes to reach Europe.

“Today’s decision takes the EU naval operation from its intelligence-gathering phase to its operational and active phase against human smugglers on the high seas,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Launched in June as EUNAVFOR Med, the mission now has a new brand: “Operation Sophia”, named after a baby girl born on a German rescue ship off the coast of Libya this summer. Proposed by Mogherini, the name change drew some criticism from bloc members for not being “sufficiently military,” the AFP reported.

According to the Council of the EU, the operation “will be able to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking” in the Mediterranean. Currently, Operation Sophia consists of four ships, including an Italian aircraft carrier, and four planes, along with 1,318 personnel from 22 countries across Europe.

Can lead to more deaths

ECRE has raised serious doubts over this military mission, as it is not the most efficient way to “disrupt the business model of smugglers and traffickers networks,” as framed by the Council.  

“The most efficient method of shutting down smugglers – a goal we agree with – is to eliminate the need for their services by providing safe and legal channels to Europe,” ECRE’s Secretary General, Michael Diedring, said when the mission was established.

“A military operation will lead to more deaths, either directly, as collateral damage in this unwinnable “war” against smugglers, or indirectly as desperate refugees take even more dangerous journeys when boats are destroyed. The ultimate irony is that these people are fleeing war, persecution and violence; with this military action they are being met with the same,” he stated.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 2 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.