Italian Premier, Giorgia Meloni, at Lower House | Photo: ANSA/Filippo Attili - Chigi Palace Press Office
Italian Premier, Giorgia Meloni, at Lower House | Photo: ANSA/Filippo Attili - Chigi Palace Press Office

Italy's new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has explained that her idea of a 'naval blockade' against migration can be found in the original proposal of the European Union's Sophia naval mission. The third phase of the proposal, which was never implemented, planned to halt the departure of migrant boats from North Africa, said Meloni.

Premier Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday (October 25) deflected references to her recent call for a naval blockade against migrants from North Africa in her first address to parliament laying out her five-year agenda, including on immigration.

The new prime minister said the blockade was already being enforced by the EU's Sophia Mission. "Our intention is always the same. If you don't want to hear talk of a naval blockade, I will say this: it is our intention to recuperate the original proposal of the European Union's Sophia naval mission which in the third planned phase, never implemented, provided for a blockade on the departure of vessels from North Africa," she said.

Meloni wants to create asylum hotspots in Africa

The premier said she intended to propose it at a European level and implement it "in agreement with North African authorities, together with the creation of hotspots on African territories," managed by international organizations, to examine asylum applications and identify applicants "who have the right to be welcomed by Europe and those who don't have that right."

Meloni went to say that "too many men, women, and children, have died at sea in the attempt to reach Italy" over the years due to the inability to find "the right solutions to different migration crises."

She went on to say that her government intends to pursue a path, "which has not been followed a lot until today: stopping illegal departures, finally breaking human trafficking in the Mediterranean."

What was Operation Sophia?

The Sophia operation saw the light in the spring of 2015, during the migrant crisis in the eastern Mediterranean, and was never completed. Operation Sophia (official name EunavforMed), which according to Meloni should be resumed by Brussels, lasted five years. It pursued the main objective of halting human trafficking responsible for migrant flows from North Africa to southern Europe.

The initiative was launched on May 18, 2015, just a few weeks after a shipwreck left over 800 migrants dead in April 2015 -- the deadliest such incident in the central Mediterranean's recent history.

Sophia was the first military operation of European maritime security in the central Mediterranean. It was headed by Italy with headquarters in Rome.

It originally included three phases: the first consisted in deploying forces to investigate trafficking; the second provided for personnel to board, search and seize boats in international waters used by traffickers, according to international law; the third phase included the adoption of measures against boats allegedly used for human trafficking in the territories of coastal states.

Third phase not a naval blockade

For the third phase, a resolution of the UN Security Council and the approval of the coastal state affected by the measure were however necessary. It wasn't therefore a naval blockade but an operation at the origin of illegal migration flows managed by traffickers. Only the first two phases were however completed.

After several extensions, on March 31, 2020, the Sophia operation ended, weakened by opposition from several member states -- Germany, Austria and Hungary as well as the Italian government led by the Five-Star Movement and the League party -- and by the fact that the participation of naval units had not been authorized in its last few months.

Operation Sophia was replaced by EunavforMed Irini, with a different objective: prevent the flow of weapons to Libya. Irini will expire on March 31, 2023.


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