How Navy patrols in the Mediterranean became a 'migrant magnet' because refugees know they will get safe passage to Europe
- Smugglers set off in boats with enough fuel to reach international waters
- They telephone rescuers asking for help, knowing they will be picked up
- EU ships under rules to then take them rest of the way to 'safe countries'
- Royal Navy has destroyed 27 smuggler boats in almost a year of service
The massive EU operation to rescue migrants has effectively become a ferry service across the Mediterranean, it emerged yesterday.
Smugglers are setting off from the North African coast in boats with only enough fuel to get them into international waters.
They then telephone rescuers asking for help, knowing they will be picked up by EU ships that will take them the rest of the way to Italy.
The mission, in which the Royal Navy has destroyed just 27 smuggler boats in almost a year of involvement, has been described as a ‘magnet to migrants’.
Whitehall officials yesterday refused to make public the cost of our contribution to the EU operation called Operation Sophia.
Futile? HMS Bulwark is one of the Navy ships in the Mediterranean patrolling
While only nine smugglers have been identified by the British and reported to Italian authorities since the mission began last June, naval ships have ferried thousands of people to mainland Europe.
Some 3,700 – or more than a quarter – of the 13,700 migrants plucked from the sea and taken to Italy in the £9.3million operation have been rescued by British vessels.
They cannot be returned to troubled Libya because it is not deemed to be safe and they are therefore disembarked in Italy.
David Cameron this week announced a British warship would be deployed off the Libyan coast to boost the effort, but military experts dismissed this as a ‘grand gesture’.
More than 12,000 migrants have been picked up from the sea in the past week as the warm weather brings the start of another summer of chaos.
A cross-party House of Lords report earlier this month warned that claims the search-and-rescue operation acts as a ‘magnet to migrants and eases the task of smugglers, who would only need their vessels to reach the high seas’ had some validity.
‘The mission does not...in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route,’ it said.
HMS Richmond, a Type-23 frigate, which support the EU's operations in the Mediterranean during 2014
David Cameron this week announced a British warship would be deployed off the Libyan coast to boost the effort, but military experts dismissed this as a ‘grand gesture’
In answer to a parliamentary question about the effectiveness of the UK’s naval contribution, Armed Forces minister Penny Mordaunt said the figures show how few boats have been destroyed to prevent them being re-used.
She said: ‘HMS Enterprise has been valuable in developing a picture of the maritime environment and smuggling routes.
‘More broadly, we assess that Operation Sophia has left the smugglers unable to operate with impunity in international waters. This is progress on which we can build.’
Miss Mordaunt added: ‘We remain committed to working with the Libyan Government of National Accord to move to the later phases of the operation once the right conditions are in place and prevent the smugglers from putting people to sea.’
Tory MP Anne Main, who put down the question, yesterday said she was disappointed that the Government had refused to give details of the cost of the operation, but said it was ‘no doubt a large and significant sum’.
She added: ‘No wonder the EU do not want us to leave, as we are doing them a huge favour. You have to ask why this EU maritime force is in existence when they are not pulling their weight.
‘They are the ones with fleets in the Mediterranean and yet it is down to us to do the heavy lifting.’
Despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to help Libya, a Downing Street spokesman was unable to say what type of Royal Navy ship would be sent to join the four UK vessels already involved.
Criticising the move, Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a former Nato commander and Ministry of Defence director general, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think because it is happening at the G7 and we have a referendum this has the nature of a grand gesture.
‘What I think is significant here is that we are having to boost the EU operation.’
- Dozens of migrants were missing yesterday after an overloaded fishing boat sank off the coast of Libya – the third major tragedy in the Mediterranean in as many days, Italian rescuers said. Italian coastguards received a call for help for 350 people in the water. The Italian navy said it had saved 130 people and was still searching for others. The coastguard said around 1,900 people were saved yesterday from 16 vessels in distress.
Most watched News videos
- O.J. Simpson set to appear before Nevada parole board
- Tony Hall defends high BBC salaries as discounted market rates
- Captured Islamic State fighters held in crowded prison
- Chilling footage of crocodile returning corpse to river bank
- Dan Walker on BBC pay story: 'It's going to be a fun day'
- Lions fans on tour perform their Yorkshire Haka in Auckland
- Animation shows how Air Canada landing nearly ended in disaster
- Chris Evans: 'It's right that people know what we get paid'
- Monique Gautschy-Dumoulin on her parents' disappearance
- PM Theresa May slams the BBC as she enters gender pay gap discussion
- Bodycam shows Baltimore officer 'planting drugs' at crime scene
- 'I'm sorry the BBC is really hurting today': Jeremy Vine on BBC pay