Cooperation with libya: eu expands military mission “sophia

Brussels wants to help Libya build up a coast guard and navy. The government in Tobruk is to be enabled to take action against refugees itself.

The German Armed Forces are involved in the "Sophia" mission with several hundred soldiers Photo: dpa

The European Union is stepping up action against the influx of refugees coming across the Mediterranean. Foreign ministers decided Monday in Luxembourg to extend and expand the "Sophia" mission, which is primarily intended to limit migration via Libya.

The mission, in which the German Armed Forces are involved with around 400 soldiers, will now initially last until July 27, 2017, and will be expanded to include help in setting up a Libyan coast guard and enforcing an arms embargo, according to a statement.

Before the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) had stressed the importance of the decision. The issue was what else Europe could do to "prevent refugees from crossing the Libyan border towards the Mediterranean, towards Europe," Steinmeier said.

Operation "Sophia" was decided in 2015. It initially focused on gathering intelligence on smuggling networks. It is about both people smuggling, i.e. smuggling people who pay for it, and human trafficking, which takes place against the will of those involved.

"Neutralization" of 139 ships

Currently, the main task is to control, seize and divert smuggling vessels in the south central Mediterranean. According to the EU Council of Ministers, the operation has so far led to the "neutralization" of 139 ships and boats and the arrest of some 70 suspects, who have been handed over to Italian authorities.

Italy, where the headquarters are also located in Rome, is leading the mission. At the same time, the mission has helped save nearly 16,000 lives so far, according to the EU.

In addition, European assistance is now to be provided for the establishment of a Libyan coast guard and navy. This should enable the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tobruk to combat human smuggling and trafficking and to rescue people in distress off the coast.

The arms embargo required a decision by the United Nations Security Council. It is intended to cut off supplies to armed groups such as the IS terrorist militia and thus generally serve to pacify the country, which is torn apart by fighting. This is another way in which the EU ultimately wants fewer migrants to come across the sea.

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