UK government turns its back on people dying at sea

Last updated October 28, 2014Press release

Refugee Action is shocked at the UK Government’s refusal to support attempts to rescue people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea seeking safety in Europe.

This decision comes at a time of unprecedented global refugee numbers, with millions of people fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, brutal military regimes such as Eritrea and, more recently, the aftermath of destruction in Gaza.

In the last year, the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation has saved some 90,000 lives. However, UNHCR estimates there have been at least 2,500 deaths in the Mediterranean in the same period.

Mare Nostrum will be replaced by a reduced pan-European programme called Triton on 1 November, run by Frontex, the EU border agency. Triton will have a narrow mandate, patrolling within 30 miles of the Italian coast, and will not proactively look for vessels in distress.

This decision was revealed in a written answer by Foreign Minister Lady Anelay who said:

”We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.” She added that there was “an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.”

Dave Garratt, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said:

“This decision, to turn our backs on people dying at sea, is nonsensical and shameful. Claims that rescue operations encourage people to chance risky sea crossings fly in the face of reality.

“These are people we meet every day, desperate to escape war and other profound threats to their lives. No wonder they are prepared to risk crossing the sea on an overcrowded and flimsy boat if the alternative is death and torture. Whether or not they may be rescued is out of the equation.”

He continued:

“Rather than refusing to support search and rescue efforts, which will only result in even more needless deaths and suffering, the UK government should find ways of offering more safe and legal channels to the UK for refugees, such as through the UNHCR resettlement programme.”

Syamend is one Syrian refugee who made the Mediterranean crossing. Read his story.

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