The Government’s decision to not support future search and rescue operations for migrants in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea has been criticised by a leading Catholic charity.
Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay has said search and rescue operations encourage people to make the dangerous journey into Europe by sea. In a House of Lords written answer, she said: “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.”
Martin Foley, the national director of Catholic seafarers’ charity Apostleship of the Sea, said he was “disappointed” at the Government’s stance. “We are disappointed that the Government has chosen to withdraw support for future migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean,” he said.
“All the evidence shows that such operations are needed now more than ever as people flee violence and persecution in many troubled parts of our world. Such a decision, if true, rather undermines the Government’s firm and welcome action to address the scourge of human trafficking through the Modern Slavery Bill. What is needed is a joined-up approach to migration policy.”
The news comes as Mare Nostrum, an Italian mission, is being stopped after saving tens of thousands of migrants travelling into Europe from North Africa. The mission was started after the tragedy that occurred off Lampedusa in October 2013 in which more than 300 migrants drowned after the boat they were travelling on sank.
After the Lampedusa tragedy, Pope Francis visited the small Italian island and condemned “global indifference” to the migrants’ plight.
A limited EU ‘border protection’ operation, called Triton, will begin on November 1. However, search and rescue operations will not be part of its remit and it will instead carry out patrols within 30 miles of the Italian coast.
Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather has also criticised the Government’s decision, describing it as “deeply depressing”.
“We would rather let people drown for nothing other than baseless political motives. It shows that when it comes to immigration, the Government has plumbed new depths of inhumanity,” said the Catholic MP for Brent in a statement.
“We cannot pretend this problem has nothing to do with us and wash our hands as people die. It is the policies we are pursuing, attempting to turn Europe into a fortress with no safe routes in, that is forcing migrants into risking their lives. We are forcing people to choose between dying in their own war torn country and drowning in the sea.”
She continued: “While we agree to bomb ISIS and dish out weapons to other groups in the Middle East, we offer no protection to those fleeing the conflict. Instead we have to listen as Ministers claim that UK towns are “under siege” from migrants.
“Last month I visited Lebanon, where nearly a quarter of the population are now refugees from the region. The hospitality I witnessed there was inspiring. How depressing that the UK’s response, rather than to extend a hand of welcome, is to turn our back on the biggest refugee crisis for over half a century. We should all be ashamed.”