The Government is “leaving people to drown” in the Mediterranean sea through its opposition to search and rescue missions to help migrant vessels, Ed Miliband has said.
Speaking at Labour event in Manchester Central today the leader of the opposition said the decision to end the search and rescue missions, which was backed by the UK government, was “a mistake” and “wrong”.
“Frankly I think it is a stain on Europe to have these things happening on our shores and in our waters and so, what I would be saying at the European Council tomorrow is that we’ve got to act, we’ve got to act on search and rescue, and that is about basic humanity and I think that people all around the country will recognise this,” he told the audience.
“I think we can’t just leave people to drown in the way that is happening and the original decision was a mistake and it should be reversed.”
Mr Miliband said the first responsibility for the deaths lied with “traffickers” who he said were encouraging people to flee to Europe –but that it was now Europe’s own responsibility to save lives where it could. He said he would re-start the missions.
“Of course the first responsibility engages with those people engaging with this dreadful trafficking of people, the people engaging in this people trafficking, and of course that’s right, but it’s a bit like if somebody pushes somebody into the sea or into a point and so the first responsibility lies with them but we have a responsibility ourselves,” he argued.
“I would be saying that we’ve got to re-start the search and rescue. The search and rescue was ended in November, we said at the time that it was a mistake, it was wrong,” he said.
The Government’s response to the latest drowning of 950 people late this weekend pointedly did not feature the reinstatement of the rescue missions.
In a statement released on Sunday Philip Hammond blamed ‘traffickers’ for encouraging people to flee conflicts and come to Europe but was silent on helping families who might drown in future.
“We must target the traffickers who are responsible for so many people dying at sea and prevent their innocent victims from being tricked or forced into making these perilous journeys,” he said, calling for a “comprehensive, co-ordinated response” to the regular deaths.
Mr Hammond said he was “horrified at the appalling loss of life” at the crossing and accused groups assisting the migrants to make the crossing of “cynicism”.
When the rescue missions were ended in October last year the Government said it believed the prospect of being saved from drowning in the event of an accident encouraged people to make the journey.
“Ministers across Europe have expressed concerns that search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have acted as a pull factor for illegal migration, encouraging people to make dangerous crossings in the expectation of rescue,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in October.
“This has led to more deaths as traffickers have exploited the situation using boats that are unfit to make the crossing.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said last night that he supported sending the Royal Navy to rescue migrants but claimed that EU-wide efforts could leave the UK swamped by “millions” of new arrivals.
Migrants have continued to make the journey despite the Government’s theorising, however. Well over 1000 people had died crossing the sea so far this year.
The UNHCR says migrant boats carried 13,500 people into Italian waters last week alone. EU ministers are to meet at a summit to discuss the best course of action.
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