EU suspends migrant patrols off Libya coast

EU suspends migrant patrols off Libya coast
The EU has suspended migrant patrols off the Libyan coast.
2 min read
27 March, 2019
The step has been taken following deep resistance by populist-led Italian government [Getty]

The EU has said that it will suspend ship patrols that have been rescuing tens of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean and brought them to safety in Italy.

The step has been taken following deep resistance by populist-led Italian government.

EU diplomats have decided to extend the rescues operation, dubbed Operation Sophia, by six months beyond its 31 March expiry date, but without new ship deployments.

"Member states have decided to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia for six months with a temporary suspension of its naval assets while member states continue working on a solution related to disembarkation," said EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.

The operation will merely rely on air missions and close coordination with Libya, a politically volatile country since 2011 uprising.

Kocijancic warned that Operation Sophia's effective operations will be impeded without naval resources.  

"[It] is a maritime operation and it is clear that without naval resources, it will not be able to carry out its mandate effectively," said Kocijancic.

The EU’s operation was launch in 2015, after a series of tragic shipwrecks. Since then, it allegedly arrested approximately 150 traffickers and rescued 45,000 migrants.

With the arrival of the current far right-populist government, Italy diverted the mission's course. Italian authorities are taking a much harsher stance towards rescued migrants moving towards Italian shores.

Media reports have noted that the decision split the bloc's 28 member states who have been frequently discussing the possibility of halting Sophia.

Far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's stance on rescue operations is thought to have helped him gain in popularity ahead of EU elections in May.

The Italian government has insisted it should not have to shoulder the responsibility of dealing with migrants rescued at sea.

"Rationality went out of the window a long time ago," said an EU diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Cooperation between the EU and Libya has reportedly contributed to the reduction of migrants arriving from North Africa and the Middle East, from a 2015 peak.

Activists have been condemning rife human rights violations against migrants in Libya, a passage country to Europe.

Currently, two ships still patrol the central Mediterranean as part of Operation Sophia: "Rayo" and "Luigi Rizzo" which are commissioned by Spain and Italy respectively.

The two ships are also supported by air assets from Spain, Italy, Poland and Luxembourg.