11 May 2015

Mediterranean migrant crisis: UK backs gunships over quotas

Plans to force European Union member states to receive a “fair” share of refugees seeking asylum in Europe are to be fought by the UK, in favour of deploying gunships to tackle trafficking gangs.

The European Commission plan would allocate a quota of asylum seekers to the EU’s 28 member states based on economic and social factors. Britain and other European countries would be obliged to take in persons “in clear need of international protection”.

However, the Home Office has said such a plan is unacceptable – putting David Cameron on a collision course with other senior EU leaders at a time when Britain’s relationship with Europe is in the spotlight.

A longer term plan would aim to put the number of cases the UK deals with on a par with countries such as France and Italy.

The UK currently processes around 30,000 such cases a year. The European Commission plan is supported by Germany which had more than 200,000 applicants last year.

Our focus must be on targeting and stopping the callous criminals who lie behind this vile trade in human beings. Home Office spokesperson

“The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer,” a British government spokesperson said.

“We will oppose any EU Commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota.”

The opposition comes as the United Nations examines a draft resolution, drawn up by the UK, that would authorise military action against people smuggling networks from Libyan waters.

Around 1,800 people are believed to have died crossing the Mediterranean from Africa this year – with many of them departing from Libya. It is a 100-fold increase on the same period last year. David Cameron was amongst other EU leaders who supported cutting funding for the Mare Nostrum search and rescue missions which ended in November last year.

HMS Bulwark

“Our focus must be on targeting and stopping the callous criminals who lie behind this vile trade in human beings,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore we will continue to focus our efforts on enhancing work between the law enforcement agencies, working within the countries of origin and transit and establishing a more effective process of returning illegal migrants.”

EU foreign and security policy co-ordinator Federica Mogherini will present the military action proposals, which are said to call for the “use of all means to destroy the business model of the traffickers”.

Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark (pictured, above) – sent to the Mediterranean by Mr Cameron to assist with operations at the height of the migrant deaths crisis last month – could be involved, as well as helicopter gunships putting traffickers’ vessels out of action.

A number of EU member states – including Britain, France and Spain – are believed to be ready to contribute to the Italy-led mission, but it faces opposition from the Libyan authorities.

Torture and rape

Amnesty International released a report on Monday detailing the “horrific abuse” suffered by migrants in Libya before they have made the dangerous crossing to Europe.

The report says refugess and migrants in Libya face “rape, torture and abduction by traffickers and smugglers”. Migrants are often detained by armed gangs for ransom, and are tortured to force money out of their families.

Women are at “serious risk” of rape and sexual abuse at the hands of criminal gangs and smugglers, the report states. Migrants captured for ransom who cannot pay are often held “effectively as slaves, force to work without pay, physically assaulted and robbed”.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: “The ghastly conditions for migrants, coupled with spiralling lawlessness and armed conflicts raging within the country, make clear just how dangerous life in Libya is today.

“With no legal avenues to escape and seek safety, they are forced to place their lives in the hands of smugglers who callously extort, abuse and attack them.

“The international community has stood and watched as Libya has descended into chaos since the 2011 NATO military campaign ended, effectively allowing militias and armed groups to run amok. World leaders have a responsibility and must be prepared to face the consequences, which include greater levels of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and rampant abuse in Libya.

“Asylum-seekers and migrants are among the most vulnerable people in Libya and their plight must not be ignored.”