Jeremy Lefroy is Parliamentary Candidate for Stafford.
During the last week, over a thousand people have died in the waters of the Mediterranean. That’s almost as many as died on the Titanic, and 31 times the number who died when the Costa Concordia sunk. If these people had been British or European nationals the election campaign would be suspended, the black ties would have been brought out, and politicians would compete over how far they could go to stop this ever happening again. But because it’s happening to migrants, most of whom are from Africa, action has been slow.
These tragedies were not simply acts of God – horrifying, but unpreventable. In fact, the terrible truth is that the scale of the deaths are due to a decision that EU leaders made to suspend the search and rescue mission that had been operating in the region until the end of last year. The idea behind the policy was that the search and rescue operation was becoming a pull factor and stopping it would reduce the numbers willing to risk their lives – and also reduce the number of migrants.
In my view, this policy is wrong on three levels.
First, it’s morally wrong. Using thousands of deaths as a warning to others belongs back in the dark ages when we put heads on stakes to keep people in line.
Second, it’s based on a faulty premise. Those crossing the Mediterranean aren’t fleeing for fun. Many of them are from Somalia or Eritrea or South Sudan – fleeing for their lives in many cases. They have fled, often with no possessions, put themselves into the hands of savage people smugglers, trekked across the Sahara desert and then spent time in lawless Libya. To say they are not risk-averse is an understatement. If you are willing to do all that, the idea that fewer lifeboats is suddenly going to put you off the last leg of the journey is absurd.
Third, and perhaps most devastatingly for those who had supported the policy, it’s not working. The numbers of people trying to get across the sea are up not down.
So in summary, the result of this policy is not to decrease the numbers of people coming – it is to increase the numbers drowning.
It is right that EU leaders are holding a crisis meeting on Thursday, and that David Cameron has promised UK action. Thursday’s meeting must agree the immediate resumption of full search and rescue operations with joint political and financial responsibility across all EU member states. Because, whatever else we think on migration, we should at least be able to agree that drowning as an act of public policy is not in line with our country’s great values.