European operation Sophia has been rescuing fewer migrants since its ships were halted | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/G.Lami
European operation Sophia has been rescuing fewer migrants since its ships were halted | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/G.Lami

The European Union has agreed to extend its Operation Sophia anti-migrant-smuggling mission along the Libyan Mediterranean coast by six months. It will now run until the end of March 2020 — however, actual naval operations remain halted.

The decision to extend Operation Sophia was taken by EU member states' representatives on the Political and Security Committee (PSC) in Brussels but it still has to be officially signed off by the bloc's respective governments.

The military operation, which was set up initially to combat people smuggling in the Mediterranean is based in Italy. It had previously shrunk from a full-on naval deployment in 2015 to drone surveillance. The naval patrols in the Mediterranean were ended six months ago due to mounting disagreements on how rescued migrants should be divided between EU member states. Italy in particular had voted against the warships returning from their missions against smuggler boats with saved migrants on board.

Launched in 2015, Operation Sophia also offers air support and training to Libya's coastguard. Its mandate includes enforcing a weapons embargo on the conflict-ridden North African country, which has become a main transit point for many migrants and refugees.

Migrant redistribution

The status of Operation Sophia's naval mandate might yet change after Italy this week got a new government. With the anti-immigrant League party out of government, Rome might change its tactics when it comes to managing immigration.

Several EU states, including France and Germany, are currently in discussions with the new Italian government in the hope of devising ways to automatically distribute migrants arriving in Italy elsewhere across the European Union.

The issue is also expected to top the agenda of a September 23 EU interior ministers' meeting in Malta.

with DPA, AFP

 

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