Lord Foulkes, who as George Foulkes was a minister at the Department for International Development, has written a letter to Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, calling for Britain to step in and prevent further deaths in the Mediterranean, after a boat making the journey capsized, resulting in the deaths of at least 700 people. The full letter is below:
I write to you in my capacity as a Peer and former Minister at the Department for International Development, following news of the tragic events in the waters of the Mediterranean, in which countless refuges drowned in their pursuit of a better, safer life on our continent.
I do so because I believe this Government, we as a nation, and the wider European Union must shoulder some of the blame.
As you know, last October the European Union, including Britain, decided not to support any further search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.
As a result, an extensive Italian operation, which had hitherto rescued hundreds of thousands of refugees at sea, was replaced by a much narrower EU operation focused on “border surveillance”.
When asked why the British Government supported such a decision, we were told that Mare Nostrum, the proactive Italian search and rescue operation, was encouraging more refugees to attempt the perilous crossing, thereby leading to more tragic deaths.
Unfortunately, the Government and the EU has been proven painfully wrong.
Since search and rescue operations have ceased, the number of crossings seem to have increased, whilst the death toll has gone up ten- fold.
The Government’s response to this ongoing tragedy has been disappointing.
In your statement yesterday, you quite rightly said this situation had to be “tackled at every stage”, yet I was appalled to find absolutely no mention of British support for the renewal of search and rescue operations.
I therefore urge you to pressurise your colleagues in the European Union to restart such operations immediately, and to offer British ships and aircrafts to aid such efforts.
The European Union’s decision, backed by the Government, not to continue such support has already resulted in unnecessary deaths.
To make matters worse, such a scenario was entirely predictable. Numerous groups warned the Government of precisely these consequences.
We cannot, therefore, continue to bury our heads in the sand, nor can we hide behind talk of a more comprehensive EU strategy.
The simple fact is, unless more boats are sent out to patrol the region and rescue people, more innocent lives, including those of children, will be lost in the days and weeks to come.
We must also turn our attention to the root causes of the problem, as you noted yesterday. The Department for International Development should therefore urgently review its strategy towards aiding those refugees who gather in the coast of Northern Africa. The UK should also agree to the Italian Government’s request for an urgent meeting of European Heads of State to consider joint action.
In the short term, however, Britain’s efforts must be directed at the immediate resumption of search and rescue operations in the region.
If member states refuse to offer up the financial or logistical support required, Britain must step forward.
We cannot continue to stand idly by as men, women, and children needlessly drown in their thousands.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock