Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop has spoken out in response to reports of hundreds of people feared drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after a boat carrying up to 700 people capsized. Ms Hyslop called for both the EU and the UK to treat the worsening situation as a humanitarian emergency and for the incoming UK Government to change the UK position and end its refusal to support search and rescue operations that prevent migrants and refugees from drowning.
In a statement, Ms Hyslop said “The news this morning that hundreds of migrants and refugees are feared drowned is heart breaking and my thoughts are with them and their families. Many of those affected are likely to have fled from war and conflict only to have died in the Mediterranean. This situation is a humanitarian emergency on Europe’s doorstep and more must be done to avoid needless deaths. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to be Europe’s watery grave.
I have been raising the issue of deaths in the Mediterranean since 2013 and I have continually lobbied the current Tory / Lib Dem Government to reverse their position to support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The next UK Government, whatever its political colour, must reverse the UK position as it is crystal clear that the current policy is failing with tragic consequences.
Migration into the EU from third countries is an area which requires multi-lateral and collective action by the EU and should not be left to unilateral action.
“The whole of the European Union has a moral duty to discuss these issues responsibly and with respect for those individuals who have been compelled to undertake dangerous voyages through no fault of their own.
The reasons vulnerable migrants and refugees embark on these hazardous journeys are complex and cannot be solely attributed to so-called ‘pull factors’. The UK should be fully supporting multi-lateral and collective efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in danger.”
According to the UN, 13,500 migrants have been rescued between 10-17 April and there have been more than 1500 Mediterranean refugee deaths since the start of 2015. An Italian led rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, was cancelled last year after EU members cut the funding to the programme. The Italian government and Italian Coast Guard have been left to undertake rescue patrols on their own as the numbers of people attempting to reach Europe has grown with the arrival of spring.
Speaking to SkyTG24 television, Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said “At the moment, we fear that this is a tragedy of really vast proportions.”
EU foreign ministers are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the Mediterranean humanitarian crisis, however, agreement to renew the rescue mission may prove hard to achieve.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office withdrew UK support for the Mare Nostrum Mediterranean rescue patrols last October. Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay said such operations encourage more people to attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing to enter Europe.
The UK General Election could influence the UK Government responds, however it is likely that any future policy decisions will have to wait until after May 7th.