NATO agreed on Thursday to work with the European Union in their efforts to stop human smugglers from trafficking migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said “When it comes to the Mediterranean, that’s of course something which we are now discussing with the European Union. It was an issue I discussed with the European Union defence ministers a couple of weeks ago and we are looking into how NATO can provide support for the EU efforts and also do more in the Mediterranean.”
NATO plans on aiding the EU in Operation Sophia, the anti-migrant smuggling military operation, by providing ships, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
“We will do this in close coordination with the European Union and I also discussed with the Italian Defence Minister setting up a coordination mechanism so we coordinate our efforts in the Mediterranean,” said Stoltenberg.
Operation Sophia, also known as EUNAVFOR Med, was established in May 2015 as a response to the surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. The death of 800 migrants after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast in April 2015 promoted the EU to mandate the operation to stop human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean.
Europe wants NATO involved to help prevent large flows of migrants who are expected to cross the Mediterranean from Libya as the weather improves and the seas get calmer.
The EU conducts Operation Sophia in international waters near Libya, but their vessels are far out to destroy boats used by people smugglers, catch traffickers or stop migrants trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea from Libya
The EU and NATO both said that if requested by the Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord they could operate closer to Libyan shores to help stop human smugglers.
“We will only act if we are asked by the Libyan government to act. So it’s based on a request from the Libyan government if they’re going to do anything in Libya,” said Stoltenberg.
NATO helped the EU control the number of individuals crossing from the Aegean Sea, which was a major route for migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece, by providing intelligence and patrol ships to help the EU’s border agency.
NATO’s involvement has dramatically decreased the number of migrants risking their lives to reach Europe in unsafe boats and is part of a wider deal between the EU and Turkey in which Turkey takes in migrants fleeing Syria in return for aid.
Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has pledged to put a stop to the large number of migrants and illegal people-smuggling taking place in Libya, ensuring that only through the establishment of a stable and secure Libya will the issue of people-smuggling be put to an end.