Storbritannia kommer ikke til å støtte fremtidige redningsoperasjoner i Middelhavet. Søk- og redningsoperasjoner som Mare Nostrum, iverksatt for å hindre at innvandrere og asylsøkere drukner under overfarten av Middelhavet, vil bare oppmuntre enda flere mennesker til å prøve seg på den farlige overfarten, mener det britiske utenriksministeriet. Flyktning- og menneskerettsorganisasjoner reagerer med raseri.
Bare i de siste 12 månedene har den italienske marineoperasjonen Mare Nostrum plukket opp rundt 150.000 mennesker på vei over Middelhavet i båter som ikke er sjødyktige.
Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep.
The British refusal comes as the official Italian sea and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, is due to end this week after contributing over the past 12 months to the rescue of an estimated 150,000 people since the Lampedusa tragedies in which 500 migrants died in October 2013.
The Italian operation will now end without a similar European search and rescue operation to replace it. The Italian authorities have said their operation, which involves a significant part of the Italian navy, is unsustainable. Despite its best efforts, more than 2,500 people are known to have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the start of the year.
Marineoperasjonen – som er anslått til å koste rundt 10 millioner euro i måneden – skal i november erstattes av et felles EU-prosjekt ved navn Triton. Prosjektet skal ledes av EUs grensekontrollbyrå Frontex, og ville inkludere søk- og redningsoperasjoner i Middelhavet som sådan, men kun farvannet noen sjømil utenfor den italienske kysten.
Human rights organisations have raised fears that more migrants and refugees will die in their attempt to reach Europe from the north African coast. The hard-pressed Italian navy will be left to mount what search and rescue operations it can. The new European operation will have only a third of the resources of the Italian operation that is being phased out.
British policy was quietly spelled out in a recent House of Lords written answer by the new Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean,” she said, adding that the government believed there was “an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.
Anelay said: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”
Den britiske regjeringen utelukker imidlertid ikke å bidra i en etter sigende planlagt operasjon som kun skal kontrollere grensene.
Innenriksminister Theresa May var blant de europeiske justis- og innenriksminsterne som tidligere denne måneden ble enige om å avslutte den italienske marineoperasjonen, og uten opphold erstatte den med operasjon Triton for å «styrke grenseovervåkningen i farvannet nær den italienske kysten». Man har også vurdert tiltak for å stanse tilførselen av fartøy fra Tunisia og Egypt som benyttes av menneskesmuglere.
European interior ministers acknowledged that the situation in the Mediterranean was of the greatest concern “as there are indications that the current trend will continue and the situation even risks deteriorating further”.
As well as deploying “Task Force Mediterranean”, which includes two fixed-wing surveillance aircraft and three patrol vessels in Operation Triton, ministers agreed a series of North African measures including finding ways of curtailing the supply of vessels from Tunisia and Egypt used by people smugglers.
May told the Commons the meeting had agreed “the prompt withdrawal of the Mare Nostrum operation … and for all member states to comply fully with their obligations under EU migration and asylum [policies].”
Leder for Det britiske flyktningerådet, Maurice Wren, mener regjeringen svikter sitt ansvar og ikke forstår at verden står overfor den «største flykningekrisen siden andre verdenskrig»:
“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.”
Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, which documents European justice and home affairs policies, added: “The government’s justification for not participating in Triton is cynical and an abdication of responsibility by saying that not helping to rescue people fleeing from war, persecution and poverty who are likely to perish is an acceptable way to discourage immigration.”
Amnesty International wrote to the home secretary last month criticising the woeful response from European countries to the unacceptable scale of the loss of life from the influx of refugees and migrants on boats across the Mediterranean.