Sunday

17th Oct 2021

EU naval mission leads to more migrant drownings, says report

  • Overcrowded rubber dinghies increases risks (Photo: Frontex)

The EU naval operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, which aims to crack down on people smugglers, has resulted in an upsurge of deaths, according to a UK parliamentary report.

The inquiry, published on Wednesday (12 July) by the cross-party House of Lords, says Sophia's sinking of boats has led to smugglers sending people on more unseaworthy vessels "resulting in more deaths at sea."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The military naval mission has, so far, removed over 420 boats from the sea and apprehended 109 smugglers and traffickers since late 2015. Around 2,206 people have died in the attempt to cross from Libya towards Italy since January 2017.

Similar concerns over drownings had already been raised last year when a spokeswoman at the EU's border agency, Frontex, told EUobserver that rubber boats were becoming more overcrowded following the Sophia boat seizures.

She noted last August that the number of people travelling on 10-12 metre-long rubber dinghies had, at the time, risen by more than quarter. Amnesty International last week had come to similar conclusions, noting that less-safe rubber dinghies are now standard given the seizure of the more stable wooden boats.

Although Sophia has saved over 30,000 people, the UK inquiry noted its core mandate - to stop the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks - has broadly failed to deliver, given the number of people still trying to leave Libya.

Instead, the UK inquiry said that any meaningful EU action against people smuggling networks inside Libya first requires a unified government that is able to able to provide security across the country.

The high numbers of people leaving Libya on unseaworthy boats has forced NGOs and charities to operate closer to the Libyan coastline.

People rescued end up disembarked at Italian ports, triggering a backlash from Rome, as accusations circulate that the presence of NGOs near Libya has become a lure for more migrants.

Italy has asked for other EU states to open their ports but received short shrift from EU interior ministers last week at a meeting in Tallinn.

Italian authorities, with the backing of the European Commission, are now drafting a controversial code of conduct for NGOs, which aims to curb their rescue efforts near the Libyan coast.

A leaked draft of the code bars NGO vessels from entering Libyan territorial waters to undertake rescues. Lights to signal their location to vessels at imminent risk of sinking will also be banned, among other plans.

But Iverna McGowan, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, says the code will only further endanger lives.

"Perversely, the proposed code of conduct for NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean could put lives at risk,” she said in a statement.

Tug of war

The tug of war over rescues - between those carried out by authorities or by NGOs - only continues to escalate.

On Tuesday, Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri met with Italian authorities, along with a handful of other EU states, to discuss reinforcing the agency's surveillance operations in the central Mediterranean.

Frontex wants to expand its multipurpose aerial surveillance (MAS) operation, which involves using a plane to stream real-time video and other data to the agency's headquarters in Warsaw.

A hearing on search and rescues is also being held on Wednesday at the European Parliament in Brussels.

EU backs Italy on NGO rescues

The European Commission has said that the EU and Italy merely want to “better organise” migrant rescues in the Central Mediterranean.

Italy to impose tough rules on NGOs

Italian authorities will release a code of conduct for NGOs, which prevents them, among other things, from entering Libyan territorial waters. A draft copy of the code says NGOs will be banned from Italian ports on failure to comply.

News in Brief

  1. Poland legalises refugee pushbacks
  2. Report: China's Xi to snub UK climate summit
  3. Norway killings 'appeared to be' Islamist 'terrorism'
  4. Le Pen vows to 'dismantle' wind-power plants
  5. Slovenia PM tweets antisemitic conspiracy theory
  6. Italy sentences ship captain for Libya pushback
  7. Polish PM and von der Leyen to clash in Brussels next week
  8. MEPs call for improved roaming rules

Libya to get new EU-funded boats despite crimes

The EU Commission is to deliver three new 'P150' patrol boats to the Libyan coast guard, despite a recent UN report citing possible crimes against humanity at Libyan detention centres.

Dozen ministers want EU to finance border walls

Interior ministers from 12 member states are demanding the EU finance border-wall projects to stop migrants entering through Belarus, in a further push towards a fortress Europe.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge Sassoli to sue EU Commission on rule of law
  2. MEPs seek EU law on bogus anti-media litigation
  3. Africa seeks EU help on global vaccine-waiver
  4. Giant of 20th century European design recognised by EU
  5. Italy on edge as neo-fascists stir violence
  6. Gas-price spike will backfire on industry, energy guru says
  7. Scientists raise alarm on Greenland's ice-sheet loss
  8. EU calls for ban on Arctic oil and gas drilling

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us