Operation SOPHIA to be extended

Support for Libya Operation SOPHIA to be extended

Operation SOPHIA, the anti-human smuggling operation in the Mediterranean Sea, will continue and be expanded. The Bundestag has adopted a resolution so that German navy vessels will in future also prevent arms trafficking by sea to Libya and support the Libyan coastguard.

The Bundeswehr mission in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED - Operation Sophia); an aerial photo of the frigate KARLSRUHE

Operation SOPHIA is part of the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED)

Photo: Bundeswehr/Ann-Katrin Winges

The primary goal of Operation SOPHIA is to prevent human smuggling and trafficking in the Southern and Central Mediterranean. In addition, the Libyan coastguard and navy are to receive support in the form of intelligence sharing, training and capacity development services. Saving migrants in distress at sea is an obligation under international law, and as such continues to be part of the overall mandate.

The previous mandate ends on 31 July 2017. The German government had applied to the Bundestag for the mandate to be extended.

The ships, aircraft and helicopters involved in Operation SOPHIA will be used at sea and in international airspace between the Italian and Libyan coasts. They will monitor the sea area and help the operation to gain a complete picture of the activities of smugglers who risk human lives to make a profit. The ships involved in the operation may stop and search vessels in international waters where they are suspected of being used by smugglers. In future the mission will also be doing its bit to help fight illegal arms trafficking by sea.

The decision of the Cabinet must still be approved by the German Bundestag.

A European duty

Operation SOPHIA is an EU strategy that not only tackles smuggling, but also addresses the root causes of displacement in the countries of origin of migrants and the transit countries they use. The overall strategy is known as the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) and is a European Union anti-migrant smuggling operation.

Over and above this, it is to help stabilise and protect the EU’s southern external border at sea. To this end there are close contacts and exchange with regional and international actors, civilian and military missions in the Mediterranean and the Maghreb states, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Commitment under international law

Libya is the transit country which sees the most extensive migration flows towards Europe. More than 400,000 refugees and migrants have already crossed the Mediterranean to Europe from Libya since 2013. The reasons can be seen in the still fragile security situation and the lack of any state control over long stretches of the country’s coastline. Since 2014 Libya has also faced a worsening terrorist threat, posed primarily by the terrorist organisation Islamic State.

For these reasons Germany has been involved, also in rescuing refugees and migrants in distress at sea, since the operation began in June 2015. To date navy vessels have helped rescue more than 15,000 people. This commitment under international law will continue to be part of the overall mandate.

Theatre of operations
The extended theatre of operations will embrace the sea area south of Sicily in front of the coasts of Libya and Tunisia in the Central and Southern Mediterranean.
To this must be added the airspace over these sea areas, but not including Malta and the 25 nautical miles around it, as well as Libyan territorial waters.

Putting in place the preconditions

Two preconditions must be met before the mandate is modified: firstly a UN Security Council Resolution must exist to enforce an arms embargo against extremist groups, and secondly the European Council must decide to extend and expand the operation. In mid-June UN Security Council members agreed on a draft resolution, and on Monday the European Foreign Affairs Council gave its approval.

Operation SOPHIA is part of an overall EU strategy, which aims to fight the business model of human smugglers and traffickers as well as addressing the root causes of refugee movements and migration in the countries of origin and transit countries. The overall strategy is known as the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED).
Currently two German vessels are deployed as part of the operation, the frigate "Karlsruhe" and the combat support ship "Frankfurt am Main".