ECONOMIC migrants who attempt to reach the European Union by crossing the Mediterranean should be turned back, Britain said on Wednesday, even as the Royal Navy rescued 445 people packed into inflatable boats.
Home Secretary Theresa May’s comments come amid an EU row over how to address a crisis that has seen thousands of migrants drown fleeing conflict and poverty in North Africa and the Middle East.
In an article in The Times newspaper, May also said that a proposal for EU states to accept a binding quota of refugees would only encourage more to make the dangerous sea crossing.
“The EU should work to establish safe landing sites in North Africa, underpinned by an active programme of returns,” she wrote.
She added: “I disagree with the suggestion by the EU’s high representative, Federica Mogherini, that ‘no migrants’ intercepted at sea should be ‘sent back against their will’.
“Such an approach would only act as an increased pull factor across the Mediterranean and encourage more people to put their lives at risk.”
Her comments came as the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, was due to unveil plans for a mandatory redistribution of asylum seekers across the bloc.
Britain and Hungary are opposed to the plan, and special arrangements under which Britain, Ireland and Denmark could choose not to participate mean the proposal may be sunk, European sources have said.
Britain last year refused to contribute to an EU search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean, arguing they would only encourage more migrants.
However, a Royal Navy ship has been helping rescue efforts for the past fortnight and on Wednesday rescued 445 people from four inflatable boats, according to the defence ministry.
The ministry released photographs and video footage of sailors from HMS Bulwark throwing life-jackets to the occupants of the packed boats before pulling them onto one of the ship’s landing craft.
The migrants will be taken to Italy.
In a BBC interview, May said the priority should be to deal with the people traffickers who brought the migrants across the Mediterranean.
And she highlighted the Â£800 million ($1.25 billion, 1.12 billion euros) that Britain had spent on aid for Syrian refugees in the region.
“Europe is not going to be able to accommodate the several million people who have been disrupted from Syria, many of whom actually want to be able to stay in the region and to be able at some stage to go home,” she said.
“The best way to help those is what we as a government are doing — Â£800 million, helping in those refugee camps.”
– – – –
Forcibly Return Some Mediterranean Migrants to Home Countries – Theresa May
HOME Secretary Theresa May says economic migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea will not be taken in by the UK and should be forcibly returned to avoid encouraging others to take the risk of traveling to Europe.
“I disagree with the suggestion by the EU’s high representative Federica Mogherini that ‘no migrants’ intercepted at sea should be ‘sent back against their will,’” May writes in the Times.
“Such an approach would only act as an increased pull factor across the Mediterranean — and encourage more people to put their lives at risk.”
With this she also confirmed that Britain would not participate in a mandatory resettlement or relocation scheme.
“We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys – or which makes it easier for the gangs responsible for their misery.
“That is why the UK will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.
“We must not provide new incentives for those simply seeking to come for economic reasons,” she added.
May said there is a difference between people fleeing persecution and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life. The latter group, she says, should be sent back to their country of origin – even if against their will.
May warned the migrant crisis is worsening and demands a “clear response” from European nations.
“Gangs are profiting from the misery of their fellow humans, selling them false promises before loading them on to dangerous vessels and sending them – in many cases – to their deaths,” she wrote.
She proposes establishing safe landing sites in North Africa, an active program of returns and a “properly structured program,” which slowed people traveling through transit countries.
Around 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa this year, according to the UN. More than 1,800 migrants have died attempting the journey.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to propose new quotas for asylum seekers across the European Union on Wednesday.
He is expected to present a new system, which would allocate migrants to different EU member states according to their GDP, population and past numbers on asylum acceptances.
Germany, France and Italy are strong supporters of the scheme, and have taken in tens of thousands of refugees, while some Eastern European countries, which have taken in only a few hundred, oppose it.
The UK government earlier announced that it would use its opt-out option. On Tuesday, the EU Commission agreed the UK can have the right to not take part in the scheme. Denmark and Ireland are also not bound by it.
May told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday the real problem are the smugglers. She said more needed to be done to stop people traffickers.
“The real way to deal with that flow of people – a lot of which is to do with economic migrants, people from countries like Eritrea and Nigeria – is actually to stop that flow of people in the first place.
“Very often what lies behind this are criminals who are taking people’s money, travelling them through Africa, putting them into boats that they know may very well sink, that are not seaworthy, because they think they will be rescued.”