Georgia Graham, Telegraph, October 28, 2014
Britain will not offer support for search and rescue operations for migrants making dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean to Europe, a Foreign Office minister has said.
Saving migrants making the dangerous sea crossing when their often rickety boats get into trouble encourages more people to make the journey and lead to “more tragic and unnecessary deaths”, Baroness Anelay of St John said.
It comes as the Italian search and rescue operation–which has contributed to the rescue of 150,000 people from sea in the last year–is drawn to a close this week.
The risks posed by such journeys came to international attention in October last year when a series of disasters off the islands of Lampedusa saw 500 migrants drowned in just a few days.
More than 2,500 people are known to have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the start of the year.
Now Britain and Italy have decided that the rescue service on offer is acting as a “pull factor” for migrants that is undermining the deterrent of the dangerous journey and placing more migrants at risk by encouraging them to make the crossing in the first place.
In response to a question in the Lords about Britain’s naval or air-sea rescue contribution to saving such migrants Baroness Anelay wrote: “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.”
The Home Office told the Guardian that the Government was not taking part in Operation Triton at present beyond providing one “debriefer”–a single immigration officer–to gather intelligence about the migrants who continue to make the dangerous journey to Italy.
Refugee charities have reacted furiously to Britain’s lack of support for search and rescue operations and said that the decision will result in “more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.
Maurice Wren, the chief executive of the British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, said that the British Government appear said “oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.”
He said: “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.”