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, Mare Nostrum, is being wound up after rescuing tens of thousands of people making the treacherous journey from North Africa, with a more limited EU border security operation being launched on November 1.
Earlier this month, the British government set out its opposition to search and rescue operations, warning that they might encourage more illegal immigrants to attempt the crossing.
UK foreign office minister Joyce Anelay told peers: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
“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.”
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.
“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 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 EU is that there are almost no safe and legal means to access European soil to file an asylum claim, for example.”
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