EU eyes awkward migration compromise on Mediterranean mission

by Reuters
Tuesday, 26 March 2019 12:36 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Migrants are seen during rescue operation in the Mediterranea Sea October 20, 2016. Yara Nardi/Italian Red Cross press office/Handout via Reuters

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By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, March 26 (Reuters) - The European Union was weighing up a compromise over migration policy on Tuesday that would extend its patrols in the Mediterranean but without vessels to save people in the sea after Italy said it would no longer receive them.

The discussion among EU diplomats over Operation Sophia - the mandate of which expires on Sunday - is an offshoot of the migration feuds that have damaged the bloc's unity since a surge in Mediterranean arrivals in 2015.

From the more than a million refugees and migrants who made it to the bloc in that crisis year, sea arrivals dropped dramatically to 141,500 people in 2018, according to U.N. data.

Still, Italy, under the influence of the anti-migration deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, has said it would no longer be the main point of disembarkation for people picked from water by Sophia ships.

Germany and other EU states are not keen either to host these people - mostly fleeing wars and poverty in Africa - but do want the mission to continue.

The potential compromise, according to a draft document seen by Reuters, would prolong Sophia for six months but only for air patrols of the Mediterranean and training of the coast guard in Libya, where lawlessness has let smugglers sending people to Europe to operate freely in recent years.

EU diplomats said the proposal was not yet certain to win the final endorsement.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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