World News

Report: EU mission tackling migrant smuggling 'has failed'

Posted July 12

A European Union naval mission to deter smugglers from trafficking migrants across the Mediterranean has led to more deaths at sea, a UK report into the operation said Wednesday.

Destroying hundreds of smugglers' boats -- one of the approaches used in Operation Sophia -- prompted less secure vessels like dinghies to be used, according to the report from the House of Lords' European Union external affairs sub-committee.

"This change in the business model has made the crossing more dangerous for migrants," the report notes.

At least 4,581 people died while making the journey between Libya and Italy last year, up from 2,876 in 2015. In the current year up to July 2, 2,150 people have died.

According to the report, 181,436 people arrived in Europe via the southern central Mediterranean last year -- an increase of 18% on 2015 when the figure was 153,842.

Operation Sophia has rescued more than 33,000 people since its inception and apprehended 110 suspected smugglers and traffickers.

The report said that the naval mission was the "wrong tool" to tackle the problem and the multi-state operation had "not in any meaningful way deterred the flow of migrants."

Read: Rescuers accuse Europe of 'leaving migrants to drown'

"Operation Sophia has failed to meet the objective of its mandate... It should not be renewed," Baroness Verma, who chairs the the House of Lords committee, was quoted as saying in the paper.

However, she added: "...it has been a humanitarian success, and it is critical that the EU's lifesaving search and rescue work continues, but using more suitable, non-military, vessels."

When contacted by CNN for a response to the publication of the report, a UK government spokesperson said: "Operation Sophia and the UK's contribution to it is saving lives and helping to disrupt the activities of smugglers who continue to exploit migrants trying to reach Europe.

"UK ships mean fewer children drowning and dangerous smuggling boats destroyed before they can be reused. The operation is part of the UK government's wider approach to tackling irregular migration at source."

CNN has contacted the EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia for comment.

'Deadliest'

The report was published days after Amnesty International released its own analysis of the migrant crisis.

Amnesty described the operation's efforts to disrupt smugglers' activities in Libya as "reckless" and "is in fact exposing refugees and migrants to even greater risks at sea."

Human Rights Watch, which published its own briefing last month, declared the central southern route as the "deadliest migration route in the world."

It says that since the beginning of 2014 through to June 1, 2017, over 12,000 people have died or been reported missing.

According to HRW, nongovernmental organizations have rescued in excess of 80,000 migrants making the journey from Libya towards Italy since "Mare Nostrum", the Italian operation, was ended in 2014.

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