Today’s crisis talks held by European leaders aimed at addressing the catastrophe in the Mediterranean has failed to commit to prioritise helping refugees reach safety in Europe.
Instead, David Cameron promised to deploy one of the Royal Navy’s biggest warships to the Mediterranean to join an increased search and rescue effort. The EU also promised to triple funds spent on Triton, the EU’s border control mission, but crucially said Triton’s mandate would not be expanded to contain an official search and rescue function.
The Prime Minister shamefully flatly rejected the idea that Britain would help share responsibility for protecting some of the refugees who made it to Europe’s shores, and no pledges for resettling refugees were made.
The European Council will revisit the issue in June.
Responding to the summit, Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Today European governments had the chance to step up to the plate and get serious about saving lives instead of just talking about it. Instead, they’ve tried to save political face by attempting to deal with this problem at arm’s length.
“Patrolling the Mediterranean and smashing the smugglers may sound like the priority, but what will become of those who are fleeing for their lives right now if we aren’t prepared to provide them with alternative routes to safety? What’s the use of stopping people drowning on our doorstep just to watch them being beheaded, butchered or shot in northern Africa?
“The UK government speaks about our proud tradition of protecting refugees, yet when the Syrians and Eritreans come knocking on the door of Europe begging to be protected, we slam it in their faces.”
European governments have repeatedly failed to acknowledge that the world is in the grip of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Because of a lack of safe and legal routes, many refugees are forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers or risk perilous journeys, in their search for safety. Some are trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Currently, the UK Government response is largely focused on tackling smugglers. This completely ignores the underlying reason why men, women and children are forced to take dangerous journeys in the first place: Europe’s hostile immigration policies simply leave them with no other choice.
The border to the EU is becoming the most dangerous border in the world. It risks becoming more deadly by proposed plans to use military force rather than focusing on saving lives. We think there is an alternative.
There is no single solution to a crisis of this scale. However, there are a series of actions which the UK Government could take in the short, medium and long term, which would save lives.