Operation Sophia: EU cracks down on human trafficking in Mediterranean

Refugee and Migrant Crisis

The crew of ITS Garibaldi scans the waters for signs of people smuggling. (CCTV)

A quarter of a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. The European Union is trying to control the flow of illegal migration and has a Navel Force patrolling the seas along the coast of Libya, where smugglers traffic people to Europe.

CCTV’s Kate Parkinson reports from aboard the flagship vessel.

The crew of ITS Garibaldi scans the waters for signs of people smuggling.

The sea looks calm, but this is an incredibly dangerous stretch of water.

The EU’s Naval Force, known as Operation Sophia, was set up in 2015 to crack down on the smuggling networks in Libya that send people on the perilous journey.

So far 78 people suspected of human trafficking have been prosecuted in Italy since the force was launched. And more than 200 boats have been seized or destroyed.

​Using the force’s three planes and three helicopters the crew can spot suspicious behavior in the waters.

“From our perspective it’s all the small skiffs or small boats that are around the scene of action,” Lieutenant Alex Melchioretto said.

In the past month Lieutenant Melchioretto ​has been involved in apprehending six suspected smugglers.

But these guys can only operate inside international waters. Which means any human trafficking, any smuggling, going on inside Libyan territory is out of their reach.

And that means the EU’s war on people smuggling has its limitations.

But smuggling is big business in Libya, and there is no shortage of people willing to risk their lives at sea to seek refuge in Europe.