Government rapped on refugee rescue

Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor

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The UK Government’s refusal to support future search and rescue missions to save desperate immigrants trying to reach Europe has been condemned by campaigners.

The Italian mission in the Mediterranean is being wound up after rescuing tens of thousands of people making the treacherous journey from North Africa, with a more limited European Union border security operation being launched on November 1.

Earlier this month the Government set out its opposition to search and rescue operations, warning that they might encourage more illegal immigrants to attempt the crossing.

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay told peers: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

“We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.

“The Government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people-smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

With the Italian Mare Nostrum mission due to end, the Refugee Council warned that the UK’s stance will contribute to more people “needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep”.

Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: “The British Government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”

The new operation, called Triton and run by the EU’s Frontex borders agency, is due to commence on November 1 but has a “very different” objective from Mare Nostrum.

Frontex spokeswoman Isabella Cooper told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Our operation covers a very specific operational area and we only have a few vessels and a few aircraft. The Mediterranean Sea is over 2.5 million square kilometres large – it is virtually impossible to have a full overview of what is happening at sea.

“Our operation is exclusively that of border control. Mare Nostrum is an operation that aims at search and rescue, so these two operations are very different.”

Michael Diedring, secretary-general of the European Council on Refugees, told Today that the EU should fundamentally change its approach to the problem, allowing more people to enter legally.

He said: “One of the reasons these people are making the journey is because the policy of the European Union is that there are almost no safe and legal means to access European soil to file an asylum claim, for example. There is only resettlement, and resettlement numbers are quite low, but that is the only legal way.

“So individuals who are stranded in North Africa, who are fleeing for their lives, who are running from persecution, from war, who have no choice because their homes have been bombed and destroyed, their family members have been killed, they have been raped and tortured and gone through horrendous journeys along the way, the only way that they can attempt to come to Europe is through organised criminals.

“If Europe allowed a safe and legal way for people to come, they could use the money that they are paying to criminals and they could buy first-class aeroplane tickets to Europe.”

Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor

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