As outlined in my response to the Parliamentary Question earlier this month to which you refer, Operation Sophia has played a decisive role in improving the overall maritime security in the Central Mediterranean. Operation Sophia is primarily a security operation, designed to disrupt the traffickers business model and counter oil and weapons smuggling, rather than a humanitarian operation. The Operation has so far contributed to the apprehension of 151 suspected smugglers and traffickers and removed approximately 550 boats from criminal organisations availability. Because of its presence in the area, it has also contributed to over 300 Safety of Life at Sea events and rescued almost 45,000 migrants.
Where migrants have been rescued by Operation Sophia, they have been transferred to Italian ports of embarkation under agreements with the Italian authorities in relation to Operation Triton and provided for in the Operation Sophia mission operations documentation. No migrants rescued by Operation Sophia were returned to Libya.
I have stated on a number of occasions in this House that the reports of ill treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya is a cause of concern to me and to my colleague, An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D.. The conditions in Libyan detention centres has informed the approach taken by Ireland and the EU in response to the migrant crisis across a number of EU and UN initiatives, including Operation Sophia. On joining this operation, Ireland imposed a caveat with the Operation Commander that Ireland would only disembark rescued migrants into Italy.
On Operation Sophia, a decision was adopted by the European Council on 29th March to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia for 6 months with a temporary suspension of its naval assets while Member States continue working on a solution related to disembarkation.
The Operation mandate will continue to be implemented through strengthening surveillance by air assets as well as reinforcing training support to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy.
Ireland will therefore not be committing Naval assets to the mission at this time, while 5 Defence Forces personnel continue to participate on the mission at across both the Operational and Force Headquarter.
It should be noted that although the deployment of Naval assets to Operation Sophia has been suspended, Member States have highlighted the importance of continuing to work closely with the Libyan authorities and international organisations to improve the protection of refugees and migrants in Libya.