Operation Sophia, formally European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), was a military operation of the European Union that was established as a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The operational headquarters was located in Rome. The EU mandate for the operation ended on March 31, 2020. Operation Irini is the successor operation.
A European Maritime Force operation to combat people smuggling and prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean stemmed from discussions in the European Council on 20 and 23 April 2015, culminating in the issuing of a Council decision on 18 May 2015 to establish a "European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean". Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino of the Italian Navy was appointed as operation commander. The Political and Security Committee appointed Italian Rear-Admiral Andrea Gueglio as force commander on 17 June 2015, and on 22 June 2015 the European Council approved the launching of EUNAVFOR Med, to take effect that day.
On 24 August 2015, a pregnant Somali woman rescued from a refugee boat by HMS Enterprise gave birth to a child aboard the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, the first to ever be born aboard a ship of the German Navy. At the suggestion of the attending medical personnel, the child was named Sophia. This was a name associated with German naval ships named Schleswig-Holstein, as the earlier destroyer Schleswig-Holstein had used the radio call sign "Sophie X". This was itself a reference to the early battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein, which had been dedicated to Princess Louise Sophie of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, as have later ships of the name. EUNAVFORMED was subsequently renamed "Operation Sophia", after the baby born aboard Schleswig-Holstein.
I will suggest to Member States that we change the name of our Operation: instead of calling it EUNAVFOR MED, I suggest we use the name: Sophia. To honour the lives of the people we are saving, the lives of people we want to protect, and to pass the message to the world that fighting the smugglers and the criminal networks is a way of protecting human life.— Federica Mogherini, Rome, EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia Operational Headquarters, 24 September 2015
The operation aims to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. The Juncker Commission, in particular the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, views this operation as a fundamental contribution to fighting instability in the region and as a way to reduce the loss of lives at sea and increase the security of citizens of the European Union.
EUNAVFOR Med consists of three phases:
There is a common budget of 11.82 million euros for a 12 months period. In addition, military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states with the running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis.
By 2016, more than 13,000 migrants had been rescued from the sea in the course of the operation. On 20 June 2016, the Council of the European Union extended Operation Sophia's mandate reinforcing it by adding two supporting tasks: The length of the Operation may be continuously renewed by the Council. On 25 July 2017, the Council of the European Union again extended Operation Sophia's mandate, while also amending its mandate to:
The UK's House of Lords has noted in a report that claims this kind of search-and-rescue operation acts as a ‘magnet to migrants and eases the task of smugglers, who would only need their vessels to reach the high seas’ had some validity.
Also the Libyan coastguard has warned that the EU's "Operation Sophia" boosts migrant smuggling, explaining that "People, when they get rescued, call their friends to tell them that there are EU vessels only 20 miles from Libyan waters to save them."
In July 2017, a House of Lords report claimed that the mission had been a failure, as it had managed neither to reduce deaths at sea or disrupt the smuggling network.
In January 2019, the mission has been reduced.
In February 2020, a new mission is planned to replace the previous one..
On March 31, 2020 the new operation EUNAVFOR MED Operation Irini is launched. In parallel, Operation Sophia permanently ceases its activities..
'The trajectory for how long Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean will continue is an open question.'