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Cameron and Clegg admit axing search and rescue in Mediterranean has failed


umbertino
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UK government backed decision in October to scale back search and rescue operations, arguing they encouraged migrants to board perilous boats

 

 

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

 

Wednesday 22 April 2015 13.05 BST

 

 

 

 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have acknowledged that the EU’s decision to scale back search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean has not worked after two disasters in which hundreds of migrants died trying to reach Italy.

 

The UK government strongly backed the EU’s decision in October last year to move from routine search and rescue to a coastguard service, arguing that the old system was creating an “unintended pull factor” that meant migrants were boarding perilous boats in Africa in the hope of being rescued before reaching Europe.

 

However, the prime minister has now admitted the EU’s operations that replaced search and rescue have not been successful, as the number of migrant deaths has risen substantially since the EU took over responsibility for sea patrols from the Italians.

 

Heads of state will attend a summit in Brussels on Thursday aiming to resolve the growing crisis, with hundreds of people already drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

 

Writing for the Guardian, Clegg also said the decision was taken with good intentions but it “now looks to have been wrong”.

 

When the EU took over from the old Italian Mare Nostrum operation, it decided only to patrol within 12 miles of the coast, rather than conducting routine search and rescue missions.

 

Britain strongly defended this move at the time, with Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay saying: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.” She said the government thought it was “encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.

 

Last year, in response to the EU’s appeal to member states for resources for the new mission, Britain said it would provide one debriefer – a single immigration officer, an offer it later increased to five.

 

However, two disasters – killing 400 and 800 people respectively – in the past week appear to have changed Cameron and Clegg’s positions. The prime minister is attending the EU summit on Thursday, where he will be asked to support an expanded search and rescue operation.

 

He told ITV’s This Morning: “It was a decision that was made by the EU and Italy as well. They found at some stage it did look like more people were taking to boats. So they, the EU, decided to end that policy and have a coastguard policy. That hasn’t worked either.

 

“Now we need to make sure we do more to save lives. That will involve more search and rescue and there is a contribution I’m sure we can make to that. But that alone won’t be enough. We’ve got to go after the real causes of the problem. So far many of the things that have been done haven’t worked.”

 

He brushed off any personal responsibility for the disasters after the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the Conservatives had “left people to die in the Med” and the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, said it was Cameron’s fault for taking part in military action in Libya.

 

“We need to do better and Europe needs to do better,” he said. “I will go to this meeting on Thursday with a British contribution about what more we can do. But no one should pretend there are easy answers here.”

 

In his Guardian article, Clegg said the Liberal Democrats want an “urgent review of the EU’s policy and the funding available for search and rescue”.

 

But he said the solution to the problem ultimately lies on land and not solely in a more comprehensive search and rescue mission or a war on the people smugglers.

 

“While conditions in Libya and elsewhere remain so desperate, there will be many thousands of people who judge that the chance of a better life in Europe – however slim – is a risk worth taking,” he wrote.

 

“We need to change the minds – and the lives – of the people who feel they have no choice but to flee. This is where we should be asking much, much more of our partners in the EU. We need a level of coordinated ambition that frankly we rarely see from the EU these days.”

 

He also suggested the language used about those who have died has been damaging.

 

“The language the media and politicians use to describe them (not ‘people’ but ‘migrants’) has the effect of making them seem less human. A problem without a solution. We have failed these people again and again, and we desperately need to rethink our approach,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, suggested on LBC Radio that the UK could even send in special forces to Libya to stop the people traffickers.

 

“I think you need to choke off the problem at source – you need to stop these people being put into boats.”

 

Told the only way to do this was by putting troops into Libya, Johnson said: “Isn’t the tradition you don’t discuss the use of special forces but you need to do something? … I’m a long way away from the discussions about this but there are clearly some very highly organised and ruthless people who are sending people to their deaths in the Mediterranean. It seems to me that is something that should be the subject of concerted European response led by Britain.”

 

Pressed again on the use of the SAS, Johnson said: “I don’t see why not, I don’t see why not.”

 

 

 

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An officer feeds a baby as rescued migrants disembark from an Italian navy vessel in Augusta, Sicily. Photograph: Francesco Malavolta/AP

 

 

 

 

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Italian coast guard personnel rescue shipwrecked migrants off the coast of Sicily Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/22/cameron-and-clegg-admit-axeing-search-and-rescue-in-mediterranean-has-failed

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