Theresa May: Economic Migrants Fleeing Across Mediterranean Should Be Returned to Africa

Rosa Prince, Telegraph, May 13, 2015

Theresa May has said economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean to seek better lives in Europe should be returned to Africa to thwart the “terrible callous trade in human beings”.

The Home Secretary suggested she wanted to remove the incentive for desperate Africans, and the people smugglers who take advantage of them, to put their lives at risk by boarding unseaworthy crafts.

Her words put her at odds with European Union officials, who have suggested that all of the thousands of people who have fled across the Mediterranean in recent weeks, often after hazardous journeys during which fellow travellers lost their lives, should be allowed to remain.

Economic migrants

Mrs May said that sent the wrong message to the people smugglers who took advantage of those seeking to better themselves.

She told Sky: “What we see is that a lot of people coming are economic migrants, but they are paying criminal gangs to transport them across Africa.

“These criminals are then putting them into vessels which they know very often are not seaworthy, where people’s lives are being put at risk.

“It’s important that the criminals aren’t able simply to say to people: ‘If you pay us money, we are going to put your lives at risk but don’t worry, you’ll get to Europe’.

“And that’s why it’s important that people picked up in the Mediterranean can be taken back to Africa.”

Mrs May denied that her suggestion was hard-hearted, saying that Britain was taking action to help those who got into difficulties while crossing the Mediterranean.

She added that those who were fleeing violence in places like Syria would be treated differently to “the majority” of those arriving, who she said were often from nations such as Nigeria and Eritrea, where their lives were not at immediate risk

Mrs May went on: “Of course we as the United Kingdom are participating in search and rescue operations, to make sure people are not dying at seat, but we need to deal with these criminal gangs, we need to deal with this terrible callous trade in human beings.

“What we’re seeing lying behind a lot of these people coming to Europe is this terrible trade in human beings.

“There are criminals who are making money, making a profit, out of people’s aspirations and doing so in a way where they know they know these people’s lives will be put at risk.

“I think that is a terrible trade and I think we need to ensure that criminals are not able to ply this business any longer.”

Anna Musgrave, of the Refugee Council, said: “Sadly, the British Government appears oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis in recent memory.

“The Home Secretary’s sweeping judgement that people arriving on Europe’s shores from some of the world’s biggest refugee producing countries are economic migrants is utterly startling.

“The Government’s choice is simple, yet historic. Will we turn our back on the world’s refugees, or will we live up to our proud tradition of offering some of the most vulnerable people in the world safety in Britain?”

How many asylum seekers does the UK accept?

Data compiled by Eurostat, the European Commission’s own statistics agency, showed Britain gave asylum protection to 14,065 people in 2014, while other large European states accepted just a few hundred each.

Britain’s intake was the fifth largest in the EU. Germany took the most at more than 47,500, followed by Sweden with 33,000, while France and Italy granted protection to about 20,600 each.

Spain, one of the more populous countries in the EU with 46 million people, gave asylum to just 1,600 asylum applicants last year and Poland–with a population of 38 million–took just 740.

Ireland took 495 while Portugal’s figure was 40, down from 135 the previous year.

Britain’s intake comprised 2,275 Eritreans, 1,650 Iranians and 1,455 Syrians. Syrians made up 37 per cent of all European asylum beneficiaries.

How many EU workers now live here?

Data from the Office for National Statistics revealed 1.95 million people born in the 27 other EU member states were working here in the first quarter of this year.

In the same period just four years ago the figure was almost half a million fewer.

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