Refugees arriving by boat in Europe
Thousands of refugees are making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to reach the shores of Europe Getty

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Friday 9 October authorising European military action against migrant smugglers off Libya's coast. The European Union launched Operation Sophia on Wednesday 7 October to intercept boats suspected of being used for human trafficking or smuggling.

The UN's approval of the naval operation was not required for the EU to carry out the operation but has made Operation Sophia more legitimate. Under the operation European naval forces would be allowed to board, search, seize and divert any vessels being used by migrant smugglers. So far the EU has only focused on surveillance and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The operation is aimed at disrupting the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean and to prevent the further loss of life at sea," EU countries said in a statement released on 28 September.

"It is part of a wider EU comprehensive approach to migration, tackling both the symptoms and root causes such as conflict, poverty, climate change and persecution."

It is unclear whether migrants and refugees seized by Operation Sophia will eventually be allowed a safe passage to Europe. Al Jazeera reported that the mission includes an Italian aircraft carrier, a French frigate, and one British, one Spanish and two German ships. Three more vessels supplied by Belgium, Britain and Slovenia are expected to arrive in the area by the end of October.

Earlier reports indicated that the draft resolution was opposed by some African countries and Venezuela when presented to the council in September, but the countries are said to have changed their position on the operation after it received Libya's approval. Britain circulated the draft resolution to 15 council members on 6 October along with a letter from the Libyan ambassador indicating that his government was "no longer objecting" to the proposed resolution.

The operation was named Sophia' after the name given to the baby born on the ship of the operation on 22 August off the coast of Libya. So far this year, more than 500,000 refugees and migrants have crossed into Europe, with more than 2,700 having drowned on the way. The numbers indicate that this is the biggest refugee crisis that the region has seen since the Second World War.