The U.K. Government has decided to end British support for search-and-rescue operations for migrants in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean, in what The Guardian described as a ”quiet announcement”.
Mare Nostrum, the Italian-funded search and rescue operation focused on helping people whose boats get into difficulty in the Mediterranean is due to come to an end this week, the U.K.-based Refugee Council reports.
Earlier this month, U.K. Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay told peers: “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.”
However, according to UNHCR, the upward trend in people crossing the Mediterranean Sea began last summer, before Mare Nostrum was established.
Mare Nostrum will be replaced by operation Triton, run by EU border agency Frontex on November 1. Frontex has said that operation Triton is exclusively focused on border control and will not have a search and rescue function.
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 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.”
In 2014, around 150,000 people have been rescued by the Italian navy. Tragically 3,343 people have died.
Amnesty International U.K. Director Kate Allen said: “This is a very dark day for the moral standing of the U.K. The Italian navy’s desperately needed search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean has saved thousands of lives and other European countries should now be stepping up to share that responsibility with them, not shirk it. The vague prospect of rescue has never been the incentive. War, poverty and persecution are what make desperate people take terrible risks. History will judge this decision as unforgiveable. When the hour came, the U.K. turned its back on despairing people and left them to drown.”
World Maritime News Staff