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Leaked report from Operation Sophia show that EU is worried that 300,000 people could flee Libya

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

BRUSSELS – The European Union fears that more than 300,000 people could flee across the Mediterranean Sea in a “humanitarian disaster” if the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate, according to a new internal report.

That prediction was made in the latest semiannual report from Operation Sophia, the EU’s military mission aimed at halting people from being smuggled across the sea into Europe. But, according to the report, which was made public by BuzzFeed News, the mission is drastically unprepared for such an event.

The odds of people making the dangerous trek to Europe has increased, Sophia noted in the report, dated July 9. The report cites the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in its estimate that “around 325,000 people could take to the sea if conditions in Libya compelled them to do so.”

The Sophia report also predicted that while the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard were still operational, the conflict in Tripoli could force them to focus more on internal security than stopping smuggling. “If this were to occur, it is likely that handling these threats would outstrip [the Libyans’] capacity and an immediate intervention by the European Community would be required off the coast,” the report continues.

According to the latest Sophia report, the plan to turn over operations to the Libyans has found only moderate success. During the period the report covers, from December 2018 through May 2019, the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy responded to only 50% of search and rescue cases along the Central Mediterranean migration route.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told BuzzFeed News that it was “concerned that without Sophia’s naval assets, we may not be able to react swiftly if the situation at sea deteriorates, and we see a risk for increased activity by the smugglers as a consequence of the limited ability of the Operation to act.”

Meanwhile, the mission has also been tasked with “implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.” That hasn’t been going so well, though, as the lack of ships has made a hard task even harder, even with the use of aerial assets to try to spot traffickers.

Therefore, according to the report, Sophia has called on EU member states to designate ships that will “enable a possible EU maritime response” within 14 days. The EU Commission declined to comment when asked how the request is proceeding, instead referring BuzzFeed News to individual members.

But the clock is ticking: The current mandate for Sophia only runs until September, at which point EU member states will have to either extend it or wrap the whole mission up, no matter what the situation is on the ground in Libya at the time.

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