This refugee mission is a huge success, despite what the media would have you believe

Ed Sykes

Operation Sophia is an EU military operation aimed at defeating human traffickers in the Mediterranean Sea. It has become a highly successful humanitarian operation in recent months. But for all the wrong reasons, it has been slammed in the mainstream media.

Launched on 22 June 2015, the operation sought:

the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean.

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The project soon came to be viewed much more as a search and rescue mission. According to a House of Lords EU committee report released on 13 May 2016, for example, the operation has been:

undertaking valuable work in search and rescue at sea.

In particular, around 9,000 lives have been saved since the operation began.

The mainstream media, however, has been focusing mainly on the negative side of Operation Sophia. Headlines have stressed that the mission is “ineffective“, “failing” or “not working“. But should rescuing 9,000 lives at sea really be considered a failure?

The problem is that the mission was initially focused on dealing with human trafficking, not rescuing refugees. The House of Lords EU committee says:

However valuable as a search and rescue mission, Operation Sophia does not, and we argue cannot, deliver its mandate. It responds to symptoms, not causes.

And here, the committee is right. To deal with the refugee crisis effectively, the EU needs to focus more on its causes than its symptoms.

The committee is wrong, however, when it says:

the protracted crises in the EU’s wider neighbourhood, sectarian conflicts and economic inequalities are beyond the capacity of the EU to resolve.

The EU can respond to the problems in its wider neighbourhood if it has the will to do so. Instead of giving €3bn to Turkey – which has recently been slammed by the UN for human rights violations and military abuses – the EU could push it to return to peace negotiations it broke off last July.

And rather than pursuing short-term interests, EU leaders could invest in a genuinely peaceful and inclusive resolution to the war raging in Syria. One key way of doing this would be to support the inclusion of secular, gender-egalitarian and directly democratic representatives from Rojava (in northern Syria) in the peace talks which are currently underway.

As Middle East expert Robert Fisk says, if the EU is really determined to “tackle the root causes” of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on Europe’s borders:

we’ve got to talk about justice, dignity and freedom for the people of the Middle East – which means we’ve got to redesign our policies towards Islam, history, Arab dictators, Israel, the Palestinians, the Kurds… We may even have to re-examine our views of Europe.

Anything less than this would truly be a failure.

Featured image via Irish Defence Forces/Wikimedia Commons

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