The EU is beginning a new operation in the southern
Mediterranean to intercept boats smuggling migrants.
Under Operation Sophia , naval vessels will be able to board,
search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for
Until now, the EU has focused on surveillance and rescue
So far this year, more than 130,000 migrants and refugees
have crossed to Europe from the north African coast. More
than 2,700 have drowned.
However, many more migrants and refugees – mainly
Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war – are taking a
different route. They are crossing overland into Turkey,
before a short journey by sea to European Union member
Greece and onwards to central and northern European
countries, with Germany the preferred destination.
The migrant crisis was one of the issues raised by French
President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel in a rare joint address to the European Parliament in
Strasbourg on Wednesday.
Europe migrant crisis – in depth
Analysis: James Reynolds, BBC News, Rome
The limits of the EU’s mission are obvious. Its warships will
have to stick to international waters – meaning that they
will have to stay 12 nautical miles away from the Libyan
It’s not immediately clear whether or not six warships,
together with support helicopters and drones, will make a
practical difference to the number of journeys begun by
smugglers and migrants.
On some days, about 20 migrant ships set sail from the
The EU eventually hopes to move to a third, more
aggressive phase of its operation – by operating within
Libya’s own territorial waters. But this will only be possible
with the approval of either the UN Security Council or Libya
Europe set to start seizing smugglers
EU migrant boat seizures ‘won’t stop crime gangs’
Migrant crisis in graphics
What is next route for migrants?
The huge numbers of migrants reaching Europe have led to
a crisis within the EU, with member states at odds on how
to deal with the influx.
The deadliest voyages are from Libya to Italy.
The EU launched the first phase of its operation, called
EUNavfor Med, in June, using naval surveillance to detect
smugglers’ boats and monitor smuggling patterns from
Libya towards Italy and Malta.
Operation Sophia – the second phase – has been named
after a baby born on an EU ship that rescued her mother off
the coast of Libya in August.
From its headquarters in Rome, the operation’s commander,
Rear Adm Enrico Credendino, will oversee several EU
warships in the Mediterranean, including the British frigate
His deputy, Rear Adm Herve Blejean, told the BBC that six
ships were being used “to start to dismantle this business
model by trying to apprehend some suspected smugglers”.
Adm Blejean said he hoped four more vessels would soon
join the operation, staffed with professionals who were
ready to deal with any threats or resistance they might
A senior migration expert has warned , however, that the EU
operation in the Mediterranean will fail unless the bloc also
fights criminal gangs in Europe.
Eugenio Ambrosi, of the International Organization for
Migration (IOM), said the “transnational criminal rings of
traffickers are the same as those involved in weapons and
“The boats are not the reason for the smuggling,” Mr
Ambrosi said, adding that if efforts are just focused on the
boats, “the nucleus of the criminals remains untouched”.