Andrew Smith MP

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Human Rights Day – don’t let them drown

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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

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