Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean: an impossible challenge Contents

Chapter 1: The inception of Operation Sophia

A common security and defence policy mission.

1.In 2014 and 2015, an exceptional number of economic migrants and refugees sought to enter Europe. ‘Migrant’ is widely used as an umbrella term to denote both economic migrants and refugees, and we use the term accordingly in this report. It includes ‘asylum seekers’ (people fleeing persecution or conflict, and therefore, seeking international protection under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees), ‘refugees’ (who are asylum seekers whose claim has been approved), and ‘economic migrants’ (people whose primary motivation for leaving their home country is economic opportunity). Furthermore, we use the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s definition of ‘irregular migration’—”movement that takes place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit and receiving countries”—throughout this report.4

2.EU Member States have acted both collectively and unilaterally to stem the flows of migrants. The Commission published a ‘European Agenda on Migration’ in May 2015,5 and we addressed one aspect of this wider Agenda, the EU’s Action Plan against migrant smuggling, in our report of November 2015.6

3.In addition, and in response to the loss of 700 lives in the Lampedusa tragedy four days earlier, on 23 April 2015, the European Council concluded that it would “mobilise all efforts at its disposal to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human emergency”. It would strengthen EU “presence at sea, to fight the traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce internal solidarity and responsibility.”7

4.On 18 May 2015, Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778 on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) was adopted.8 On 22 June 2015, the EU launched its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission—EUNAVFOR MED—in the Southern Central Mediterranean. On 28 September 2015, the mission was renamed Operation Sophia, after a baby born aboard one of the mission’s ships off the coast of Libya.9

The mandate of Operation Sophia

5.The mission takes aim at the criminal networks—human smuggling and trafficking—that facilitate the movement of migrants.10 Article 1 of the Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778 states that:

“The Union shall conduct a military crisis management operation contributing to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED), achieved by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and assets used or suspected of being used by smugglers or traffickers, in accordance with applicable international law, including UNCLOS and any UN Security Council Resolution.”11

6.The mission is structured in three sequential phases:12

(1)In Phase 1, the mission will “support the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling on the high seas in accordance with international law”.

(2)In Phase 2, Operation Sophia is tasked to “conduct boarding, search, seizure and diversion of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking”. Phase 2 has two stages: Phase 2A, when the mission acts on the high seas; and Phase 2B, when the mission acts on the “high seas or in the territorial and internal waters” of the coastal state. Phase 2B will be conducted “in accordance with any applicable UN Security Council Resolution or consent by the coastal State concerned”, which in this case is Libya.

(3)In Phase 3, the mission—again in accordance with any applicable UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution or consent by the Libyan government—will:

“take all necessary measures against a vessel and related assets, including through disposing of them or rendering them inoperable, which are suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking, in the territory of that State, under the conditions set out in that Resolution or consent.”

7.Operation Sophia is mandated to be deployed for one year after reaching full operational capability.13 The mandate is due for renewal in summer 2016. The common costs of the mission, financed by the Member States, amount to €11.82 million for the one-year mandate.14

Structure of the report

8.Our report first considers the phenomenon of mass migration (Chapter 2), then proceeds to assess the mission to date—Phases 1 and 2A (Chapter 3). In Chapter 4, we address considerations for the future phases of the mission, and in the final chapter, we turn to the contours of a comprehensive and holistic EU external approach to tackling smuggling and stemming irregular migration, in accordance with the Union’s humanitarian values and obligations.

9.We hope that our report will make a contribution to the Member States’ assessment of Operation Sophia, in advance of its potential renewal in summer 2016.

10.The inquiry that led to this report was carried out by the External Affairs Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1. A full list of witnesses, including their affiliations, is printed in Appendix 2. We are grateful to all those who assisted us with this inquiry. We regret that although we requested evidence from the Operation Commander of Operation Sophia, we did not receive it.

11.We make this report to the House for debate.

4 IOM, ‘Key Migration Terms’: http://www.iom.int/key-migration-terms [accessed 28 April 2016]

5 Communication from the Commission on a European Agenda on Migration, COM(2015) 240 final

6 European Union Committee, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling (4th Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 46)

7 Statement of the special meeting of the European Council, 23 April 2015 http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/04/23-special-euco-statement/ [accessed 4 April 2016]

8 Council Decision 2015/778 of 18 May 2015 on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) (OJ L122, 19 May 2015)

9 European Council, EUNAVFOR Med: EU agrees to start the active phase of the operation against human smugglers and to rename it ‘Operation Sophia’ (28 September 2015): http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/09/28-eunavfor [accessed 4 April 2016] The EU also undertook a series of Justice and Home Affairs measures which fall outside the remit of this inquiry.

10 We note that the European Council conclusions and Council Decision use both the words ‘trafficking’ and ‘smuggling’ in relation to Operation Sophia. Vice Admiral Johnstone informed us that on both the eastern and central Mediterranean routes, “the vast majority of passengers are travelling willingly, thus this is not human trafficking, although it is illegal trafficking run largely by criminal networks.” (ENF0004). We use the term ‘smuggling’ to indicate the fact that the majority of migrants are travelling willingly and using the facilitation services of smugglers.

11 Article 1, Council Decision 2015/778 of 18 May 2015 on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) (OJ L122, 19 May 2015): UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

12 Ibid, Article 2

13 Ibid, Article 13

14 Ibid, Article 11

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