UK-backed mission to help migrants in Med has led to more deaths, peers say
A Government-backed mission to disrupt people smuggling in the Mediterranean has ended up leaving more migrants dead, a committee of peers has found.
The EU scheme to destroy boats used by people traffickers simply encouraged them to use less-seaworthy vessels such as dinghies, according to the EU external affairs sub-committee.
But the Government insisted Operation Sophia had led to “fewer children drowning”.
The 25-member state mission was launched in 2015 amid the migrant crisis that saw hundreds drowned as they attempted to reach Europe.
But in a new report the peers said there were more migrants detected in Mediterranean waters in 2016 than in the previous year - at 181,436 compared with 153,842.
They said some 4,581 people died travelling between Libya and Italy in 2016 - a 42% rise on the year before. So far this year 2,150 people have died, the report said.
Tory ex-minister and chair of the committee Baroness Verma said: “We remain of the view that Operation Sophia has not in any meaningful way deterred the flow of migrants, disrupted the smugglers’ networks or impeded the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route.”
She added: “An unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s destruction of vessels has been that the smugglers have adapted, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to an increase in deaths.”
The peers said the scheme should not be renewed but that search and rescue work in the Mediterranean should go on.
A Government spokesperson said: "Operation Sophia, and the UK's contribution to it, is saving lives and helping to disrupt the activities of smugglers who continue to exploit migrants trying to reach Europe.
"UK ships mean fewer children drowning and dangerous smuggling boats destroyed before they can be reused.
"The operation is part of the UK government's wider approach to tackling irregular migration at source."
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