Suspension of Operation Sophia naval means: No to returns of migrants and refugees to Libya!


Brussels, 2 April 2019

European policy on migration still in denial! In a press release published on March 29, the Council of the European Union (EU) announced that EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia, for which the mandate ended on March 31, will be extended until 30 September 2019, but without naval assets. European surveillance will now be assured only by air assets.

It is worth recalling that Operation Sophia, under Italian command, was launched by the EU on June 22, 2015 after the catastrophe of 700 migrants drowning along the Libyan coast. Its primary objective was to “disrupt the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean” by intercepting boats transporting migrants and refugees towards Europe. Towards this same goal, the EU began contributing to capacity building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and the Libyan Navy.

Even if search, assistance and rescue to vessels in distress are not explicitly part of the mission of Operation Sophia – as is also the case for Frontex – the EU was able to boast of contributing to saving almost 45,00 lives during the whole period when its ships were present in the Central Mediterranean. All ships, whatever their status, must respect the rules of international maritime law and rescue any person at sea whose life is at risk. This was particularly necessary in the Central Mediterranean since, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this is the most dangerous and deadly migration route in the world.

EuroMed Rights condemns the fact that, in deciding to suspend deployment of European naval assets and, at the same time, to equip Libya with boats for its coast guard (as recently proposed by France and already carried out by Italy), EU governments are in fact abandoning all responsibility for rescue to the Libyans. As such, they contribute to the refoulement of migrants and refugees back to this country, even though all international reporting and witness accounts indicate that migrants in Libya are subjected to unbearable detention conditions, trafficking into slavery, rape, violence and even death.

EuroMed Rights urges European governments to wake up and to do what is necessary to respect their collective commitment to defend and respect human rights.

Our network calls on them, in particular, to maintain a European naval rescue force in the Mediterranean. In any event, we ask that they support the activities of NGOs and the intervention of ships chartered by them instead of raising barriers and criminalising their activities.