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

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The challenge of mass migration

1.The current migration crisis is exacerbated by conflicts in the Middle East and the security vacuum in Libya, but it is also part of a wider phenomenon of mass migration from the developing to the developed world. This will remain a challenge for the developed world in the long term. (Paragraph 20)

2.Current policies to deal with economic migration and refugees are unable to cope with the numbers in question. The international legal architecture, political acceptance and financial resources to manage an era of mass migration are not in place. This must be addressed urgently at the European level. (Paragraph 21)

Assessment of Operation Sophia

3.The intelligence gathering phase of Operation Sophia has been useful, but only limited situational awareness can be gathered on the high seas. Significant gaps remain in Operation Sophia’s understanding of the smugglers’ networks and the modus operandi of those networks in Libya. (Paragraph 65)

4.Operation Sophia’s concept of operations and mandate were agreed in advance of the intelligence-gathering phase. This was not an ideal way to plan for the mission. The mission will require high-quality intelligence throughout its mandate; this will in turn have force generation implications. (Paragraph 66)

5.The intentions and objectives set out for Operation Sophia exceed what can realistically be achieved. A mission acting only on the high seas is not able to disrupt smuggling networks, which thrive on the political and security vacuum in Libya, and extend through Africa. (Paragraph 67)

6.Operation Sophia is viewed by NGOs in the humanitarian field as a search and rescue mission. It is undertaking valuable work in search and rescue at sea, but this is not its core mandate.(Paragraph 68)

Considerations for the next phases

7.The ability of Operation Sophia to move to Phases 2B and 3 will be critical to the overall success of mission. (Paragraph 69)

8.While Operation Sophia plays a role in gathering intelligence and in search and rescue, this is not sufficient to justify a Common Security and Defence Policy mission. Given appropriate political support in Libya—however unlikely that may be—it could, potentially, play a more useful role if able to operate in Libyan waters (Phase 2B) and onshore in Libya (Phase 3). In order to keep this possibility open, we recommend that the Member States should review and renew the mandate in summer 2016. (Paragraph 100)

9.Libya has become a springboard for irregular migration to Europe. Libyan state weakness has been a key factor underlying the exceptional rate of irregular migration on the central Mediterranean route in recent years. (Paragraph 101)

10.A Libyan government that is recognised internationally and accepted internally is a prerequisite to the future success of the mission. Should it become evident that the necessary conditions in Libya will not be forthcoming, and that Operation Sophia will be unable to proceed beyond its current phase, Member States should reconsider the concept of the mission. Member States may have to limit their activities to a search and rescue mission, while acknowledging the risks inherent in such an approach. (Paragraph 102)

11.It is vital that Operation Sophia should be protected by the necessary legal foundations. In particular, a clear legal framework for prosecuting smugglers apprehended in Libyan territorial waters must be considered and resolved before Phase 2B begins, to avoid the possibility of a damaging legal challenge. (Paragraph 103)

12.Member States’ naval assets are stretched between three distinct missions in the Mediterranean and Aegean aimed at stemming irregular migration. We recommend that every effort should be made to deepen co-operation between the missions, especially in intelligence sharing. (Paragraph 104)

13.Member States should be prepared for the unintended consequences of their efforts to stem irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, in particular the displacement of migrants to other sea routes and a possible evolution of the business model of smuggling. (Paragraph 105)

The bigger picture

14.In the short term, work to track and tackle the illicit financial flows associated with people smuggling should be a priority for the EU. We note, however, that journeys through the central Mediterranean route are financed by informal cash transactions, often completed far from the migrants themselves, which will fall outside the scope of action by the EU. (Paragraph 131)

15.In the longer term, a broader approach will be required. Operation Sophia is a limited operation with limited objectives. Our inquiry has convinced us that it cannot be considered in isolation from the global phenomenon of mass migration, the implications of which go far beyond the scope of this brief report on Operation Sophia. (Paragraph 132)

16.We are witnessing globally large scale movements of people fleeing conflict, persecution, poverty, lack of opportunity and poor governance in their home countries, and seeking safe havens and economic opportunities in the more prosperous parts of the globe, notably Western Europe and North America. The countries of Western Europe, whether in the EU or not, act as a magnet to those in the Middle East and Africa. (Paragraph 133)

17.Member States have obligations to refugees from war and persecution, but are struggling to meet them. Economic migration is a different challenge: European citizens cannot be expected to accept all those from neighbouring regions who wish to enter their countries. In public policy and public communication, this distinction should be drawn clearly. (Paragraph 134)

18.We conclude that a military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist and the networks will adapt to changing circumstances. (Paragraph 135)

19.Nor is policing the EU’s external border a feasible long term solution. Measures to tackle the problem must be taken before the migrants journey to Europe. The EU needs governments in the Middle East and North Africa that it can work with on migration. Therefore, building the resilience of these countries is critical. (Paragraph 136)

20.The specific challenge on the central Mediterranean route is Libya. Ambitious agreements, akin to the one with Turkey, cannot be replicated there. The current political progress in Libya provides a window of opportunity to contribute to the stabilisation of Libya, which Member States must seize. (Paragraph 137)

21.Only when the security and development challenges in source countries have been mitigated will the large movements of people diminish. The countries themselves bear the principal responsibility to resolve their challenges but it is in the interests of the EU and its Member States to provide whatever practical assistance and expert advice they can. This is a long-term project, which will not be cheap or quick: there is no silver bullet. (Paragraph 138)

22.In our 2015 report on the EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, we concluded that the majority of irregular migrants currently entering the EU were prima facie refugees, as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But in the longer term, a comprehensive migration policy must seek to differentiate clearly between economic migrants and asylum seekers, and address questions of resettlement, repatriation and integration of new arrivals. It will require Member States to balance their own interests and domestic considerations with values and humanitarian obligations. The crafting of such a migration policy represents a huge and urgent challenge to the governments and peoples of the EU, and will require a collective response. (Paragraph 139)

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