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Ship involved in Operation Sophia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Assanimoghaddam

German FM: Migration worries shouldn't block EU mission

February 17, 2020

Heiko Maas has again urged EU nations to support a naval operation enforcing a UN arms embargo to Libya. The foreign minister has said concerns it could promote migration to Europe were misplaced.


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday doubled down on his calls for a European Union mission to enforce a UN arms embargo to Libya, saying that some EU countries should overcome their concerns that naval patrols could fuel migration to Europe.

"Those who are thinking primarily of migration issues ... need to know that migration problems can be solved only if Libya does not remain a failed state," Maas said ahead of a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.

Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas
Germany's foreign minister, Heiko MaasImage: Reuters/A. Gebert

Several countries, notably Austria, have objected to reviving the EU naval mission Sophia in the Mediterranean, which is tasked with helping enforce the UN embargo. They say the fact that ships involved in the mission had picked up migrants in distress at sea could encourage more people to set off from Libya by boat to seek a better life in Europe.

Currently, Sophia functions almost exclusively using aircraft and pilotless drones rather than ships.

Read more: Follow the money: What are the EU's migration policy priorities?

No proven 'pull effect'

The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, added his voice on Monday in a bid to reassure nations critical of the mission, saying that the "pull effect" on migrants they feared had never occurred in the past.

But Borrell said that Monday's meeting did not need to resolve the issue yet, as the mandate for Sophia ran out at the end of March.

The EU is anxious to avoid a repeat of the events of 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people, most of them fleeing conflict or extreme poverty at home, set off by land or sea for Europe. Thousands of migrants attempting the sea journey from the Middle East or Africa over the Mediterranean died in their bid to reach the shores of Europe.

Fighters from the UN-backed government forces manning a machine gun near Tripoli
Libya is the arena of a complex civil war in which several nations are involvedImage: picture-alliance/Photoshot/H. Turkia

Since migration routes through the Balkans and via Turkey to the Greek islands have been made considerably more difficult for migrants, many now use Libya as their starting point for the perilous Mediterranean voyage.

Libya has been stricken by civil war for some nine years, leading to a state of lawlessness that has made it difficult or impossible to control the flow of migrants. Human rights groups have also criticized EU cooperation agreements with the country on the issue in light of many reports documenting the mistreatment of migrants by authorities in the country.

Read more: Libya's battle for Tripoli — what you need to know

Migrants describe brutal camps

tl/stb (dpa, AP)

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