Amnesty International condemned the European Union’s (EU) “shameful” withdrawal of its ships that were patrolling the Mediterranean to rescue migrants attempting to cross the sea, according to the group’s statement on March 27.
The EU agreed last week to extend its Mediterranean naval mission called Operation Sophia for six months from the end of March – but only for air patrols and training of the Libyan coast guard.
“This is an outrageous abdication of EU governments’ responsibilities,” Amnesty said.
EU states have been in dispute over migration since the hike in Mediterranean arrivals in 2015, which increased the popularity of far-right, nationalist, and populist groups in the bloc.
Sea arrivals have fallen from more than a million in the peak year to some 140,000 people in 2018, according to UN data. But political tensions around migration are still ongoing in the EU, especially ahead of European Parliament election in May.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini pushed earlier this month to remove European aid groups’ boats from the search and rescue area between his country and Libya, where people smugglers operate.
Salvini then moved to shut Italian ports for them, demanding that other EU states should also host the new arrivals or else Rome would cancel the operation in the Mediterranean.
Berlin and others have, however, wanted to continue the Sophia mission to fight smugglers. The compromise last week was another step in the EU’s increasingly restrictive approach to irregular migration.