A rescue boat of Operation ”Sophia” picks up distressed refugees in the Mediterranean in March 2017. Rescue organisations save thousands of lives but are increasingly being accused of encouraging people trafficking / Photo: EUNAVFOR

Rescue operations in the Mediterranean not encouraging migrant smuggling, says EU official

The EU’s Operation “Sophia” to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean is not a reason for those setting off, operation commander Admiral Enrico Credendino said Thursday. Credendino was responding to accusations that sea rescues were attracting more migrants and that NGO vessels were helping people traffickers.

“Migrants certainly don’t leave because boats at sea are a pull factor, but because there are wars, terrorism, lack of food and water,” Credendino said, citing the major reasons for the exodus. “Our main work is against criminal activities. We are often accused of being an attraction for migrants,” he said, but ”this is not true. Migrants would be leaving even without Sophia.”

Operation Sophia is active in an area that covers all of Libya. “We are working in front of Tripolitania, from which the entire migrant flow comes. We have five foreign ships with the San Giusto flagship, three patrol planes and some helicopters. So far we have arrested 109 suspected human traffickers, rescued over 34,000 migrants and neutralized 414 boats,” the Sophia commander said.

Admiral Enrico Credendino, commander of EU’s Operation “Sophia” / Photo: ANSA

According to Credendino, the quickest solution to end people smuggling would be “the bringing in of a bilateral agreement between a member state and Libya for the handing over of human traffickers. However, this would require a transfer of Libyan government sovereignty, which Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj’s government is not capable of.

Human trafficking should be considered a crime against humanity

Operation Sophia interfaces with countries and organizations involved in fighting against human trafficking. Since the summer of 2016, two activities have been added to the operation: capacity building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard for security and rescue operations, and the implementation of an embargo on weapons arriving in Libya by sea.

Some 500 people will go through the training by the end of the second mandate of Sophia, which ends on July 27. Italy will donate 10 additional motorized patrol boats for the undertaking. “We will soon sign an agreement with Interpol and NATO as part of the Sea Guardian operation. We will be a trial run for the new NATO-EU cooperation and the agreement is to be signed over the coming days,” he said.

Within Operation Sophia, ”we have created a forum with all those working in security in the Mediterranean. The next meeting will be held in June 8-9 in Rome, and NGOs carrying out rescues at sea will be taking part.” The working group will ask that ”the UN consider human trafficking a crime against humanity. Italy could become promoter of this action, which may be the key to fighting against human traffickers” he added.

©  ANSA 

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