A detailed report by the European Union under Operation Sophia estimates a sudden exodus of illegal immigrants via the Mediterranean sea from Libya. The number of people estimated to flee for their lives amounts to approximately 3 million if not more.
Operation Sophia is a European Union military mission aimed at halting people from being smuggled across the sea into Europe. But, according to this semiannual report, the mission is drastically unprepared for a mass exodus of such proportions. The report does cite the International Organization for Migration which estimates that “around 325,000 people could take to the sea if conditions in Libya compelled them to do so.”
Libya’s factions have been at war. The recent airstrike at a detention center has not only made aid movement tough and scary, but it has also dampened the spirits of the common man, who is looking for a safe haven.
The scare of such an exodus can also become the breeding ground for smuggling rackets to emerge and the ones existing to become stronger. While the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard are operational, the conflict could force them to focus more on internal security than managing such numbers from taking to the sea for escape. The stretch between Libya and Italy oversea is a deadly one where it is estimated that more than 3,800 people have lost their lives since 2018.
The European Union would, therefore, need to give a helping hand in rescue operations. In 2016, the EU had agreed to train the Libyan Navy and Coast Guards to help them achieve self-sufficiency. However, most rescues have been done by the EU itself with Libyan Coast Guard not finding themselves too proactive to respond.
Operation Sophie has not been successful in helping out rescue operations. It has a complaint of lack of ships and has now asked the EU to jump in to help. It is asking EU member states to designate ships that will “enable a possible EU maritime response” within 14 days. The mission expires in September, after which the EU will have to pool in resources to ensure it can prevent a mass exodus. Alternatively, the EU member states will also have to decide whether they will extend the mission or wrap it up, no matter what the situation is on the ground in Libya at that point of time.