Operation Sophia, the European Union migrant-rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea, has been extended and will now run until 31 December 2018.
EU leaders reached the agreement in Brussels on Tuesday (25 July) after Italy withdrew its veto. The extension was expected to be agreed upon last Monday but Italy, discontent with other EU member states’ efforts on the migrant issue, blocked the extension of the mission.
Italy has welcomed close to 100,000 migrants to its ports this year. Italian media reports even said the country was considering issuing “temporary visas” to the migrants which would allow up to 200,000 migrants to head north to other EU countries.
Announcing the renewal, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said: “Two years ago, the European Union’s member states decided unanimously to tackle together one of the most despicable crimes of our times – the trafficking of human beings – by establishing EUNAVFOR Med – Operation Sophia. Many suspected smugglers have been apprehended and many lives saved in the Mediterranean Sea, and since last year our women and men serving under the European flag have been also training the Libyan Coastguard and enforcing the arms embargo on the high seas off the coasts of Libya.”
The 28 EU Member States also amended the mandate of the operation to set up a mechanism monitoring the training of the Libyan Coastguard; conduct new surveillance activities and gather information on illegal trafficking of oil exports from Libya; and enhance the sharing information on human trafficking with member states’ law enforcement agencies, FRONTEX and EUROPOL.
“As a matter of priority, we will start in the coming days the revision of the operational plan in order to include the new tasks, such as the mechanism for monitoring the Libyan Coastguard and Navy activities post training, and to strengthen the effectiveness of the mission and the shared responsibility among member states”, said the High Representative.
Sola Jolaoso with agency reports