I think personally the boats should be turned back as close to the shore as possible so they don’t reach the Italian mainland
The European Union launched Operation Sophia in 2015 in response to the crisis, with a mandate to disrupt the people trafficking networks and destroy smugglers’ boats.Mr Johnson said part of the mission’s work was to return boats back to shore after they had put to sea.
He said: “I think personally the boats should be turned back as close to the shore as possible so they don’t reach the Italian mainland and that there is more of a deterrent.
Thousands of migrants have been rescued from boats making the dangerous crossing
“I think I am right in saying we have turned back about 200,000 migrants,” Mr Johnson said, before a nearby diplomat hastily corrected him.”Sorry, saved, saved. Thank you. We have saved 200,000 migrants and turned back 240 boats.”
It is illegal to turn back migrant boats once they reach international waters and a UN-backed government in Libya has not invited European ships into its territorial waters, saying this would undermine its own state-building efforts.
It is illegal to turn back migrant boats once they reach international waters
A total of 124,500 migrants have arrived in Italy alone since the start of 2016
It was not immediately clear in what context the boats mentioned by Mr Johnson were turned back to land.There was no immediate comment from Operation Sophia officials in Rome.
The number of migrants landing in Italy, many of whom arrive across the Mediterranean in boats, shows no signs of stopping following the rescue of thousands of migrants over the weekend.Coastguards rescued 1,100 migrants from the sea off the coast of Libya on Sunday from eight overloaded dinghies and fishing boats.
A further 2,300 were plucked from the waves as they attempted the dangerous crossing on Saturday.
Mr Johnson is in Italy for talks about Britain’s decision to leave the EU.