The EU’s task force in the Mediterranean is failing to fulfil its primary role of tackling people smugglers, French MPs have warned.
A French parliamentary report says that while Operation Sophia has proved extremely effective at rescuing migrants stranded at sea, it has not lived up to expectations when it comes to identifying and apprehending traffickers, which is what it was set up to do.
French MP Eric Ciot told RFI that while the operation has resulted in 32,000 migrants being rescued from the Mediterranean, only 100 people smugglers have been handed over to the Italian authorities since it began in 2015.
“Investing 12 million euros to arrest 100 people is a real problem,” Ciot said.
Noting that EU vessels are still unable to enter Libyan waters, Ciot added: “Today there are smugglers who put [migrant] boats in the water with just enough petrol to get out of Libyan waters, and they consider it is up to the military and civilian vessels outside the zone to pick them up.”
The report echoes a British House of Lords EU Committee study published in May last year, which found the EU mission is failing to achieve its aim of disrupting people smugglers’ operations.
The UK report said: “[T]he arrests made to date have been of low-level targets, while the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe…
“We conclude that a military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist and the networks will adapt to changing circumstances.”
Separately, the UK’s Observer yesterday reported that traffickers are raping women and children in squalid refugee camps in northern France. A volunteer told the paper that children and woman are being forced to sell sex in exchange for food and blankets or safe passage to the UK.
She said one of the most popular items requested by female asylum seekers living at the Dunkirk migrant camp are adult nappies, which women migrants wear at night to avoid visiting the shower blocks, where traffickers are said to carry out their attacks.
Further south on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a popular landing spot for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, doctors have discovered that smugglers are injecting young girls with dangerous contraceptive injections.
The Sunday Times reports that girls as young as 13 are being offered the jabs to avoid falling pregnant after being raped. Doctors claim the injections can stop menstruation and in some cases trigger early onset of the menopause.