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EU Efforts To Stop Migrant Smuggling Are 'Failing,' U.K. Committee Says

Men carry a coffin during the arrival of migrants and refugees in the port of Messina following a rescue operation at sea by the Italian Coast Guard ship "Diciotti" on March 17 in Sicily. After several quiet weeks, March saw a pickup in the flow of migrants attempting to reach Italy via Libya, a route through which about 330,000 people have made it to Europe since the start of 2014.

A new report from a U.K parliamentary committee says that EU efforts to stop the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Ocean are "failing" — and may even be putting migrants' lives at risk.

The report out of the House of Lords' European Union committee addresses "Operation Sophia" — a mission started last year that aimed to save migrants and stop smugglers along the sea route from Libya to Italy.

The naval operation is named after a Somali baby born on a rescue ship last year.

Last October, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported that the ships working on Operation Sophia were chasing "elusive" masterminds.

Rear Adm. Andrea Gueglio, the commander of the operation, talked to Sylvia:

"We don't know actually if [the smugglers] are precisely in Libya or somewhere else. They are using even satellite communication. So in this very interconnected world, they could be even somewhere else."

Now, members of Britain's House of Lords say the mission hasn't managed to disrupt smuggling operations "in any meaningful way."

NPR's Lauren Frayer, reporting from London, calls the report scathing.

"Without a formal invitation from Libya to enter its national waters, the EU mission has to operate farther out in international waters — where rougher seas make rescues more dangerous," Lauren says. "The report says that when EU vessels destroy smugglers' wooden boats, [the smugglers] switch to rubber dinghies — putting migrants' lives at even greater risk."

Lauren notes that since the operation began, thousands of migrants have been rescued.

But Operation Sophia wasn't just meant to save migrants at sea, it was supposed to shut down the smuggling routes that brought them to risky waters in the first place.

After more than nine months of operation, with five warships and seven aircraft, just 69 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been arrested, the BBC reports. And the House of Lords found most of those arrested were "low-level targets."

"Operation Sophia does not, and, we argue, cannot deliver its mandate," the House of Lords report found, according to the BBC.

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