Operation Sophia extension: effectiveness and consequence (Part 3/3)

Nonetheless, political agreements change with time, as has been seen last month with the agreement signed between the Commander of Libyan Coast Guard and EUNAVFOR MED to allow for the training of the Libyan Coast Guards and Navy Patrol Boats. This is all well and good, but what if those EU trained Libyan personnel are responsible for attacks on European NGOs as was recently seen with the MSF Vessel, MV Bourbon? What liability does the EU hold?

While the issue of disrupting the human smuggling and trafficking business has been the central pillar of the Third phase of Operation Sophia, a further issue then appears on the EUNAVFOR MED horizon; the interception of migrant boats in Libyan Territorial Waters by the Mission’s own vessels with, it is assumed, the tacit agreement of the Libyan authorities currently in power.

To an outsider, the continuity and scope of this part of the EU Mission does not seem to have been fully planned in terms of the extension of the mandated operation, and therefore the likes of issues such as uncertainty of the final destination of those rescued by Operation Sophia in Libyan waters should be questioned. Will EU NAVFOR MED be handing individuals over to Libyan authorities to be abused in detention facilities? Where are the controls, checks and balances? Will it be down to civil society to paint a true picture of abuses on the ground due to the inability for the EU military to freely operate in Libya?

Although local agreements may well have been signed with Libyan authorities, this does not guarantee the safety, protection and respect of human rights of asylum seekers and migrants in a State that has three governments and has failed in the eyes of the international community to re-establish itself after the fall of Muammar Ghaddafi in 2011. Libya cannot yet be classed as a safe country and any assisted return by EU forces would be a violation of the non-refoulement principle as highlighted in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Without an effective change in the Libyan governance, combating of criminal networks and fighting human smugglers may well appear difficult, if not impossible at a time where the Libyan state door is wide open to allowing for their criminal activities to continue.

It will be interesting to observe the evolution of the outcomes of Operation Sophia in the weeks and months to come, and which will also allow a better understanding of the existing and future collaborations by the EU with the accepted Libyan authorities.


Melanie Glodkiewicz

Intern at Human Rights at Sea

,on secondment to Sea-Watch

For further information concerning the subject, please see the following publications:

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