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EUNAVFOR MED Reina Sofia Rescue Operation © CSDP EEAS

Operation Sofia saves 33,000 migrants

17/02/17Defence

The EU’s mission to prevent illegal immigration in the Mediterranean, Operation Sofia, has captured 101 traffickers and rescued 33,296 migrants at sea in the 18 months since the operation began.

The news was announced on Thursday (16 February) by the operation’s leader Manlio Scopigno in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the 18 months the forces involved have also seized 387 boats.

Scopigno said: “Our specific mandate is to identify, capture and immobilise ships carrying illegal immigrants, not to save lives at sea.

“However, it is our legal and moral obligation to save anyone who is in distress at sea and that is why we have rescued more than 33,000 people since we began the operation.”

EU foreign ministers decided to extend the mandate of Operation Sofia in June 2016 and its responsibilities, adding a training programme for the Libyan coastguard services.

Ayub Qasem, an admiral in the Libyan Navy, however, branded Operation Sofia as little more than a propaganda operation, “a failure” that has not achieved its objectives.

The naval mission began in June 2015 with the aim of tackling the smuggling of immigrants by human traffickers into the central Mediterranean and monitoring the arms embargo following a UN Security Council resolution.

Qasem said European politicians are responsible for the failure of the mission, accusing them of using the ban on access to Libyan territorial waters as a ruse.

“Because we cannot enter the Libyan coast,” Scopigno said, “we try our best to train them so that they know how to intercept the vessels.”

Between 1 January and 8 February this year, 9,355 migrants have arrived on Europe’s shores via the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy, with 231 perishing in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Pan European Networks Ltd