EU mission to tackle people smuggling has not delivered, say peers
A European Union naval mission set up to tackle people smuggling in the wake of the international migration crisis has failed to deliver its key objective, a new report concludes.
Operation Sophia appears to have had little effect in deterring migration and its mandate should not be renewed, according to peers.
However, they said search and rescue work which has saved the lives of many people should continue.
The initiative joined by 25 EU member states including the UK was launched in 2015 in the wake of disasters in which hundreds of migrants drowned attempting to reach Europe.
It aimed to contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the southern central Mediterranean.
The House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee pointed to figures showing detections of irregular migrants on the central Mediterranean route were at the highest yet in 2016, when 181,436 people arrived in Europe by this route.
A naval mission is the "wrong tool" to tackle irregular migration, which begins onshore, the assessment found.
It claimed that an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia's destruction of vessels has been that the smugglers have adapted, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels.
This has led to a tragic increase in deaths, with 2,150 in 2017 to date, according to the report.
It also noted that Operation Sophia vessels have rescued more than 33,000 people since the start of the mission.
Baroness Verma, chair of the committee, said: "People smuggling begins onshore, so a naval mission is the wrong tool for tackling this dangerous, inhumane and unscrupulous business. Once the boats have set sail, it is too late.
"Operation Sophia has failed to meet the objective of its mandate - to disrupt the business model of people smuggling. It should not be renewed.
"However it has been a humanitarian success, and it is critical that the EU's lifesaving search and rescue work continues, but using more suitable, non-military, vessels.
She added: "Future UK and EU action should focus on tackling people smuggling in source and transit countries, and supporting sustainable economic development and good governance in these countries.
"Italy has found itself on the front line of a mass movement of people into Europe, and deserves credit for its efforts to respond."
The Operation's figures show 110 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been apprehended and 463 boats prevented from being re-used since it started.
Since October it has also been involved in the training of the Libyan Navy and Libyan Navy Coast Guard.