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Published: Tuesday 21st April 2015 by The News Editor
A European Union plan to cut numbers of deaths of migrants crossing the Mediterranean does not go “nearly far enough”, Labour has said, with leader Ed Miliband warning it will be “a stain on the EU” if proper action is not taken.
EU leaders including David Cameron will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the 10-point plan, drawn up on Monday in response to the tragic deaths of an estimated 900 people when a boat sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa last weekend.
The EU aims to strengthen its Triton patrolling service and seek a military mandate to seize and destroy people-smugglers’ boats, backed by increased budgets for Frontex, which manages the borders of the 28-nation bloc.
But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described the response as “painfully weak” and said the EU needed to restore a properly-funded search and rescue mission, after the Italian Mare Nostrum operation was halted last year.
Mr Cameron – who is breaking off from General Election campaigning to attend Thursday’s emergency meeting – has described last weekend’s incident as a “dark day for Europe” and acknowledged that Britain “can do more” to help deal with the migrant boat crisis.
The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, described the package drafted in Luxembourg on Monday as a “strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies” which “shows a new sense of urgency and political will”.
As well as beefing up Triton and extending its geographical reach, the package would involve efforts to trace and investigate people-smugglers’ funds, new teams to process asylum applicants in Italy and Greece, the fingerprinting of all migrants and consideration of a new “emergency relocation” mechanism.
Immigration officers would be sent to key third countries to gather evidence on flows of migrants, and the EU would engage more closely with the countries surrounding Libya, which has become the main source of people-smugglers’ boats.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband told BBC1’s Breakfast the plan did not go far enough, asking: “We haven’t really got to a situation, have we, where we just let people drown because saving them is somehow a price not worth paying? We cannot do that.
“Frankly, it is a stain on the EU if we don’t take proper action.”
Ms Cooper said: “It is right that governments across Europe are coming together to try to stop more tragic deaths in the Mediterranean, but this plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“We have a humanitarian crisis on Europe’s southern shores and the terrible sight of children’s bodies being carried out of the waves should shame governments into realising that this response is still painfully weak. A bit of additional funding for operation Triton is no replacement for a properly-funded EU search and rescue operation. That is what is needed and what we will continue to push for ahead of the emergency summit on Thursday.
“And we need a comprehensive European-wide plan of action to tackle the toxic mix of Libya’s instability and the smugglers and traffickers profiting from death. That means more action to stop the criminal gangs packing desperate people into decrepit and overcrowded boats, including work by Europol. And a clear strategy to try to stabilise countries being used by traffickers, exploiting fear and misery for profit.
“And we need a much more effective long-term strategy for managing EU external borders – to ease the burden on countries managing the seas and the land borders to the east.
“But the priority must be to get search and rescue operations back up and running and Labour will continue to press for this in advance of the summit on Thursday. Reports that the British Government played a leading role in ending search and rescue last year are deeply troubling. David Cameron and Theresa May need to now show their commitment to restarting the rescue as the top priority for the emergency summit.”
Former foreign secretary William Hague said there was no “quick fix” to the “absolutely catastrophic” loss of life.
Mr Hague told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme there had been sound reasons for stopping the previous operation, which rescued people right up to the border of Libyan territorial waters, because more people were dying.
But he said the current operation was also not working.
Mr Hague said: “There is a moral imperative to save lives. Then of course there is the practical question governments have to deal with which is what is the effective way to do that? There was agreement in the European Union to stop the previous operation which rescued people right up to Libyan waters because the evidence presented to home office ministers around Europe that more people died when that was in place than before.
“So they stopped it and came up with the arrangements we have now. Clearly, those are not working very well either. Absolutely catastrophic.
“None of us should pretend there is a quick fix to this, there is some mixture of measures, some of which were agreed yesterday, going after the traffickers, working better with the third countries, enhancing the Triton system of border security and rescue.
“The European heads of government, including the Prime Minister, will meet on Thursday on exactly what should be done. It needs a comprehensive solution as the Prime Minister said yesterday.”
Mr Hague said there was no doubt Libya had gone backwards since a round of elections in the wake of war which toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, aided by Nato air power.
But the senior Conservative insisted Britain has not turned its back on Libya despite hundreds of migrants fleeing the country and attempting perilous crossings of the Mediterranean to try to reach Europe.
Mr Hague, who stood down from the Commons ahead of May’s election, said the people trying to cross the Med were not all Libyan but from a wider unstable region.
He rejected a call from Libya’s ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, for arms to be provided to the Libyan government.
Mr Hague said: “We have saved lives in Libya, we saved many thousands of lives when Colonel Gaddafi’s forces were advancing on parts of Libya in 2011.
“The elections they held in 2011 were successful but there is no doubt at all Libya has gone backwards very seriously since then, different factions have fought against each other both politically and militarily.
“All efforts to find a peaceful solution have so far failed but we have to maintain those efforts. It will be a long effort I think.”
Published: Tuesday 21st April 2015 by The News Editor