An EU operation targeting people smugglers in the central Mediterranean is having no meaningful impact, a Lords report has found.
The House of Lords EU Committee said Operation Sophia, the naval mission charged with disrupting the people smuggling market in the wake of the migration crisis, is responsible for only low-level arrests.
The report, titled Operation Sophia: An Impossible Challenge, blames a lack of a stable Libyan government as a crucial factor in hampering the mission’s success. It also criticises the operation for failing to properly understand the smuggling networks, particularly in Libya.
However, the report praises the search and rescue efforts of the mission, responsible for saving 9,000 lives at sea.
Committee chairman Lord Tugendhat said: “Our report stresses that the operation is succeeding in carrying out its separate search and rescue obligations, which is to be commended. This is a humanitarian obligation that should be maintained.
“However, a naval mission cannot disrupt the business model of people smuggling, and in this sense it is failing. The smuggling networks operate from Libya, and they extend through Africa. Without support from a stable Libyan government, the operation is unable to gather the intelligence it needs or tackle the smugglers onshore.”
He said the committee is not confident that the new Libyan Government of National Accord will be in a position to work closely with the EU and its member states any time soon.
Lord Tugendhat added: “And when it comes to disrupting the smugglers’ business model, the report finds that the destruction of vessels has so far been insignificant to the scale of the smuggling industry, and we have heard that the smugglers are simply changing their tactics in response.
“By the time the boats are in the open sea, the smugglers are no longer on board, and so only low-level targets have been arrested.”
Peers concluded that a mission acting only on the high seas is not able to effectively disrupt the smuggling networks.
The EU must also focus on tackling root causes, including helping source countries overcome security and development challenges.
EU member states must engage the public with the new realities about global migration, peers urged.