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Operation Sophia: a failed mission Contents

Chapter 5: Beyond Operation Sophia

67.In our previous report, we concluded that a broader approach would be required to tackle migration through Libya. We note also that Operation Sophia sits within a range of activities relating to the central Mediterranean route.121

An onshore approach

68.Mr Walker-Cousins said that to reduce migration, “the trick” was “to cut the capillary action … we should be focusing our efforts along the land borders 1,400 kilometres to the south rather than within a stone’s throw of the final destination, Europe”. Both King Idris (who ruled Libya until 1969) and Colonel Gaddafi had “recognised and used the existing tribal system along the land borders”. They had used border guards, intelligence and security officials and “border social-security”, in the form of “donatives and flows of money and investment from the centre to the regions to keep the border populations on side”. Such arrangements did not exist at present.122 We note that such activity would fall to the Libyan authorities, rather than to its international partners.

69.Mr Williams said that, even were a political agreement to be reached, “the situation … on the borders of Libya will continue to be very challenging from a migration and a security point of view”.123 Mr Peter Millett, British Ambassador to Libya, told us in July 2016 that Libya’s southern border was “wide-open territory with almost no habitation”, and that people smuggling gangs were “almost certainly also involved in smuggling or trafficking weapons, drugs and other illicit goods.” Therefore, the Libyan authorities wanted “our help in dealing with criminality and in reinforcing not only their coastal borders but their western, eastern and southern borders”.124

70.The EU’s civilian Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission, EUBAM Libya—currently evacuated to Tunis—is designed to provide support to the Libyan authorities “in developing border management and security at the country’s land, sea and air borders”. It does so through advice, training, and mentoring.125 We note that tackling irregular migration is not included in its mandate.126 Mr Millett told us in July 2016 that the mission was “looking in particular at law enforcement, police training and the borders as a whole” as possible tasks when it returned to Libya.127 Mr Williams told us that the EU’s 2017 review of CSDP missions, including Operation Sophia, would “also look at the future of EUBAM and options for what EUBAM could do once it returns to Libya … contingent on the security situation”.128

71.Mr Walker-Cousins, though, expressed some reservations about the suitability of the EU’s approach to border management assistance. He said that European nations had expertise in civil “border management”—such as “improving the security and management of border crossings and processes at international nodes”—but for Libyans, “border security is more of a military task”. It was “about defending territory, resources and population”. This cultural gap meant that “there are a lot of border management specialists coming to talk to military commanders who need border security”.129

72.The EU’s Joint Communication stated that the staff of EUBAM Libya were “exploring with the Libyan authorities possibilities for a future civilian CSDP mission”.130 It is not yet clear what tasks such a mission might include. But we note that the EU has included the objective of combating irregular migration in one of its existing CSDP missions, EUCAP Sahel Niger. This mission supports the Nigerien authorities “to address irregular migration and [to] fight related trafficking in human beings and organised crime”.131 A new onshore CSDP mission to target irregular migration through Libya could draw on the experience of this mission, as well as incorporating existing plans for Phase 3 of Operation Sophia.

Law enforcement co-operation

73.Mr Hobart said that the UK was taking action with law enforcement authorities in countries such as Niger, “to understand how the smugglers are working”.132 In the past year and a half around 100 officers from the National Crime Agency, the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service had been “deployed across both north Africa and central Africa in operations to tackle organised immigration crime”.133

Information and outreach

74.The UK and the EU are engaged in information-sharing and outreach work in source and transit countries. For example, Mr Hobart said the EU was establishing a migration law-enforcement centre in Khartoum, and in Agadez—”the main hub of people moving from the west”—an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) centre had “been quite productive in providing information to migrants so they are better informed about where they are going and what the risks are”.134

Improving conditions for migrants in Libya

75.Amnesty International UK told us that that migrants to Libya “are especially vulnerable to a range of human rights violations, including unlawful killings, kidnapping and ransom, forced labour or sex exploitation, and torture, rape and other violations in detention”.135 Mr Hobart said that “children, women and men are at risk in Libya in centres and outside centres”. There were 250,000 “potentially vulnerable migrants and displaced people” in the country.136

76.The Malta Declaration in February 2017 included the commitment “to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants”.137 Mr Walker-Cousins suggested that the EU and its Member States “came up with that idea without really engaging the Libyan authorities”. He said the aim was “very noble”, but might not be realistic, given that Libyans’ “views on ethnic minorities, races and sexes are not the same as the way we view and operate in the … UK”.138

77.Mr Williams said there were around 46 or 48 migrant detention centres in Libya, of which around 34 were controlled by the Department for Combating Illegal Migration.139 Of these 34, the UNHCR, the IOM and partners in the Mixed-Migration Working Group140 (comprising these agencies and NGOs) had access to 29, and “UK funding is supporting activities in 22 of these”.141 The UK Government had taken “a conscious decision” only to provide funding to programmes in official detention centres, which were themselves “far from perfect”. There were also detention centres outside the control of the Libyan government, where “our working assumption is that the situation could well be worse, because they may be run as criminal enterprises”.142

78.Mr Hobart explained that the UK did not provide funding to individual centres, but rather to organisations such as the Danish Refugee Council, the IOM, and the UNHCR, “to support people who are in centres”.143 Mr Williams added that the UK also funded training to improve “the understanding and the skills that people running those centres have” of human rights, “because at the moment the picture is very mixed”.144 The Government was “very careful to make sure that what we spend money on does no harm”, but Mr Hobart acknowledged that this could fall short of resolving the situation in such centres.145

79.The EU has also committed to supporting communities in Libya and on its borders to “enhance their resilience as host communities”.146 The EU’s Joint Communication suggested that fostering “local integration” by migrants who entered Libya seeking work “where possible” could help to “facilitate their acceptance by hosting communities”.147 Mr Walker-Cousins expressed some misgivings: “Efforts to try to improve the livelihoods of the migrants and non-Libyan communities that congregate along the coast … mean there is one less thing for traffickers to worry about; we are coming in to help make their lives better.”148

Voluntary repatriation from Libya

80.Assisting voluntary repatriation from Libya had also become an important part of the UK and EU approach. Mr Hobart said that around 25% of migrants in Libya wanted to return to their countries of origin, and over 1,000 people had been assisted voluntarily to do so since October 2016. He added: “If we are able to move thousands of people back home to places where they are safe again, that would be at least some success.”149

Conclusions and recommendations

81.Disrupting the business model of smuggling networks will require concerted action at Libya’s southern land border. We therefore welcome the EU’s suggestion to develop a plan for a further Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission for Libya. The plan should support the Libyan authorities in combating irregular migration on the southern border, as originally envisaged for Phase 3 of Operation Sophia. It should be implemented when the political and security conditions in Libya allow.

82.Wider initiatives by the UK and the EU to tackle irregular migration—including outreach work in source and transit countries, and law enforcement co-operation—are welcome. Any new CSDP mission in Libya should be embedded into existing initiatives.

83.We are concerned by the dangerous conditions facing migrants in Libya, and welcome the Government’s work in providing funding through respected NGOs and international bodies to ameliorate these conditions, and supporting voluntary returns from Libya.


121 Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council on Migration on the Central Mediterranean route Managing flows, saving lives, JOIN (2017) 4 final

124 Oral evidence taken on 7 July 2016 (Session 2016–17), Q 8

125 EEAS, ‘About EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya (EUBAM)’: https://eeas.europa.eu/csdp-missions-operations/eubam-libya/3859/about-eu-border-assistance-mission-libya-eubam_en [accessed 27 June 2017]

126 Council Decision (CFSP) 2016/207 of 15 February 2016 amending Decision 2013/233/CFSP on the European Union Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission in Libya (EUBAM Libya), OJ L 39/45, (16 February 2016)

127 Oral evidence taken on 7 July 2016 (Session 2016–17), 13

130 Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council on Migration on the Central Mediterranean route Managing flows, saving lives, JOIN (2017) 4 final

131 Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council on Migration on the Central Mediterranean route Managing flows, saving lives, JOIN (2017) 4 final

135 Written evidence from Amnesty International UK (OSF0001)

137 European Council, ‘Malta Declaration by the members of the European Council on the external aspects of migration: addressing the Central Mediterranean route’ (3 February 2017): http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/01/03-malta-declaration/ [accessed 27 June 2017]

140 IOM, ‘IOM, UNHCR Launch Mixed Migration Working Group in Libya’: https://www.iom.int/news/iom-unhcr-launch-mixed-migration-working-group-libya [accessed 27 June 2017]

141 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams and Simon Jones (OSF0002)

146 European Council, ‘Malta Declaration by the members of the European Council on the external aspects of migration: addressing the Central Mediterranean route (3 February 2017): http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/01/03-malta-declaration/ [accessed 27 June 2017]

147 Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council on Migration on the Central Mediterranean route Managing flows, saving lives, JOIN (2017) 4 final




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