The frigate Augsburg | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Assanimoghaddam
The frigate Augsburg | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Assanimoghaddam

Germany is suspending participation in Operation Sophia, the EU naval mission targeting human trafficking in the Mediterranean. The decision reportedly relates to Italy's reluctance to allow rescued people to disembark.

Germany will not be sending any more ships to take part in the anti-people smuggling operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a senior military officer.

The decision means frigate Augsburg, currently stationed off the coast of Libya, will not be replaced early next month, Bundeswehr Inspector General Eberhard Zorn told members of the parliamentary Defense and Foreign Affairs committees.

The 10 German soldiers currently working at the operation's headquarters will, however, remain.

The European Union launched Operation Sophia in 2015 to capture smugglers and shut down their human trafficking operations across the Mediterranean, as well as enforce a weapons embargo on Libya. Its mandate also included training the North African country's coast guard.

However, in reality, its efforts have largely focused on rescuing thousands of refugees from unseaworthy vessels attempting to get to Europe.

Defense committee ombudsman Fritz Felgentreu told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that Italy's refusal to let migrants rescued from the sea disembark at its ports meant the operation could no longer fulfill its original mandate.

Decision a 'tragedy'

The Bundeswehr reported that, since its start, the naval operation had led to the arrest of more than 140 suspected human traffickers and destroyed more than 400 smuggling boats.

Stefan Liebich, foreign affairs spokesman for the Germany's Die Linke party, said the government's decision to suspend its involvement was a tragedy.

"For as long as Sophia is not replaced by a civilian operation, even more people will drown," he told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The EU formally extended Operation Sophia by three months at the end of December. It is due to conclude in March.

nm/rt (dpa, AFP)

First published: January 23, 2019

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