EU takes aim at migrant smugglers

The EU (European Union) has activated Operation Sophia, a coordinated military operation aimed at catching migrant smugglers by intercepting their boats in the southern Mediterranean.

Naval vessels have been instructed to board, search, seize and divert suspected rogue boats, i.e. vessels they believe are being used to smuggle people into the European Union from outside.

These are new rules of engagement, which until now consisted just of surveillance and rescue.

HMS Richmond Migrant SmugglersHMS Richmond was designed to deal with the Soviet submarine threat. Since the fall of communism, the frigate has proven its versatility by dealing with virtually every mission imaginable across the globe, according to the Ministry of Defense. (Source: Royal Navy)

Thousands have died at the hands of migrant smugglers

EU authorities say that over 130,000 refugees and migrants have left North Africa and made it across the Mediterranean into Europe so far this year. More than 2,700 have drowned while trying to complete their journey.

Many migrants and refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war, are also entering Europe by traveling overland into Turkey, and then crossing a short distance by sea into Greece. Their most popular destination is northern Europe, especially Germany.

British warship, HMS Richmond, a Type 23 frigate, has left Portsmouth to join the military operation. The UK’s Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Penny Mordaunt, said it was crucial trafficking gangs were targeted.

Ms. Mordaunt (Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North) said:

“We really do need to put these gangs out of business. They are absolutely fully in the knowledge that many of their cargo will not survive the journey, including children, and they should face the full weight of the law.”

A task force of six warships

HMS Richmond is one of six warships patrolling international waters off the Libyan coast – a departure point for several migrant vessels.

Italy has sent an aircraft carrier, and France a frigate. Spain and Germany also sent ships.

The task force has been told that for now it is not allowed to chase boats inside Libyan waters.

Ms. Mordaunt added:

“It’s appalling, these are people that are double victims; they’re victims of displacement and war and tragedy. Then the secondary insult is that their misery is preyed upon by gangs who are knowingly putting their lives in danger.”

Regarding Operation Sophia, the European Council wrote in a press release:

“The operation is aimed at disrupting the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean and to prevent the further loss of life at sea. It is part of a wider EU comprehensive approach to migration, tackling both the symptoms and root causes such as conflict, poverty, climate change and persecution.”

Video – EU launches Operation Sophia to combat people smugglers