UK Government refuses to help rescue people at sea

28 Oct 2014

The UK Government has shamefully refused to support search and rescue efforts, aimed at saving the lives of people who are forced to take perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea as they try to reach safety in Europe.

This week, 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.

Mare Nostrum will be replaced by operation Triton, run by EU border agency Frontex on the 1st November. Frontex has said that operation Triton is exclusively focused on border control and will not have a search and rescue function.  

Earlier this month, UK 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."

In 2014, around 150,000 people have been rescued by the Italian navy. Tragically 3,343 people have died.

However, according to UNHCR, the upward trend in people crossing the Mediterranean Sea began last summer, before Mare Nostrum was established.

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."