Andrew Smith MP

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With today celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day, Andrew Smith MP has called on the government to rethink their opposition to search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

After the Italian government decided to end its Mare Nostrum search and rescue programme, citing a lack of resources, government ministers refused to contribute toward a new mission. Triton, the EU Frontex operation replacing Mare Nostrum, has a third of Mare Nostrum's budget, and focuses exclusively on border control. It has no search and rescue function.

Lady Anelay, a Foreign Office Minister, suggested in a written answer on 15 October, that search and rescue operations create a "pull factor" which encourages more migrants to attempt to cross the Mediterranean. Home Office Ministers and even the Prime Minister, at PMQs on 29 October, supported her and repeated her arguments. Labour Leader Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of a lack of "basic humanity".

Andrew said, "It is simply wrong to allow migrants to drown in the hope of deterring others. Each person attempting to cross the Mediterranean is a human being, not an immigration statistic, and no life should be bartered off as an instrument to influence others. The human rights proclaimed by the UN Universal Declaration are a hollow sham if the actual rights of real people are not upheld. As Pope Francis said in his recent address to the European Parliament: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!"

Andrew has made representations to the Foreign Secretary, calling on him to rethink the policy and to work with other European Member States to fund a replacement for Mare Nostrum. He has also written to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker seeking an enlightened European policy.

Andrew has also contacted the Home Secretary, Lady Anelay, and the House of Commons Library, asking whether there is any hard evidence that a pull factor even exists. The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, Maurice Wren, challenged the idea of a "pull factor", saying "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."

In support of this view, Andrew has suggested that other factors lie behind the increase in the number of migrants making the perilous journey.

"The government has not provided any evidence to support its view that an increase is linked to successful search and rescue operations. Increased conflict in the area is an obvious driver, but a less obvious factor is the 'success' of the EU's Frontex operation. By closing off legal routes to claim asylum, it has forced asylum seekers into the hands of traffickers. If we do not respect the right of an individual to leave his or her country and to claim asylum in other, and prevent them from leaving legally, we can hardly be surprised when those at risk in their own country attempt illegal and hazardous ways of escaping."

Campaign organisation Frontexit have pointed out that Frontex intercepts vessels and returns them to the country of departure without any attempt to identify asylum seekers at risk in the country of departure, and have ignored offers for teams of experts to accompany them to identify such people.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ISC) have pointed out that international law has not changed, and that merchant ships will still have a responsibility to rescue any persons in distress at sea, regardless of their immigration status. However, in practice, without the support of a search and rescue operation, thousands of migrants are likely to drown.

Andrew has signed the e-petition calling upon the Government to continue involvement in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea to save the lives of those migrating by sea. You can also sign the petition by clicking here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/71498

Photo Credit: AFP Photo / Marine Militare

Human Rights Day – don’t let them drown

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Andrew welcomed the news that Oxford's low emissions zone (LEZ) is having a significant effect on levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city.

Introduced in January 2014 - the second in the UK outside London - the LEZ's early results suggest that there have been no breaches of the hourly mean for nitrogen dioxide this year, in contrast to 10 breaches last year and 60 in 2012.

In addition, measurements of the annual mean nitrogen dioxide levels on the roads with historically high levels of nitrogen dioxide - High Street and St Aldate's Street - have also fallen this year.

Andrew said, "I welcome the improvement of our air quality in Oxford as a result of the Labour-run City Council's introduction of a low emissions zone."

"More work must be done to improve air quality nationally, however, and I am pressing the Government to develop a national framework to help local authorities follow Oxford's lead."

"Unfortunately, the Environment Secretary is not giving this matter the priority that it deserves. In a reply to my written parliamentary question asking for a timetable for putting together an action plan to improve air quality, I was told that the earliest date would be December 2015." The response to Andrew's written parliamentary question is here: http://goo.gl/2vLvlx

"I have written to the Environment Secretary to make plain that it is unacceptable to leave each local authority making its own way, at different speeds, when a national framework could help to tackle our poor air quality more quickly and in a coordinated way." 

Andrew has campaigned for cleaner air by opposing a Coalition Government plan to remove important responsibilities for air quality monitoring and management from local authorities (pictured here).

Andrew welcomes air quality improvement in Oxford's LEZ

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The Bill, which Andrew co-sponsored, aims to prevent landlords from issuing eviction notices to renters after being ordered to make improvements to their properties by a local authority. Unfortunately, too few MPs turned up to stop two Conservative MPs talking out the Bill, meaning that it failed to pass its second reading.

The housing charity Shelter has produced research which shows that over 60,000 families across the UK were threatened with eviction for complaining about the conditions of their homes in 2013. In the South-East, 1 in 7 adults avoided asking their landlord to fix a problem or improve conditions in their home in the last year because they were scared of eviction. Across Oxford in particular, where there is one of the highest levels of private renting in the country, the problem also exists.

Andrew said, "Too many Oxford residents have to choose between keeping their home and living in decent conditions. I put my name to this Bill because it is a step forward for tenants' security."

Andrew continued, "It is also sensible and committed to protecting good landlords from spurious complaints. It will only impact good landlords positively. It will encourage responsible tenants to report repair work to their landlord, who can then respond swiftly and stop their properties from falling into long term disrepair."

"The battle goes on. If a handful of Tory MPs persist in blocking the bill", Andrew said, "I will do all I can to make sure these much-needed measures area brought in by a Labour government if we win the election."

Andrew co-wrote a blog post about the revenge evictions bill for Shelter, which you can read here: http://goo.gl/iew90Y

Andrew backed in Commons a bill to end retaliatory eviction

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Andrew welcomed the launch of Oxfordshire Community Foundation's annual 'Surviving Winter' appeal to stop unnecessary winter deaths across the county.

"There are 7,000 households now in fuel poverty in Oxford, forced to choose between eating and heating, and each one needs support", Andrew said. "I strongly welcome the work of Oxfordshire Community Foundation, both on its own and alongside Age UK Oxfordshire, the Citizens Advice Bureau, and the Oxford Diocese to make a difference to people's wellbeing in the winter months."

Oxfordshire Community Foundation relies on donations of all sizes to support people struggling to stay warm and well. Donations pay for everything from bursaries for fuel bills and hot water bottles to lunch clubs for older people and boiler repairs. For more information about giving this winter, please visit http://oxfordshire.org/years-surviving-winter-campaign-launches/.

Andrew welcomes Oxfordshire Community Foundation’s new winter appeal

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