The loss of life we have seen in recent months among migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has been shocking. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimate that 1,300 died in April this year alone, and there are now an estimated 550,000 displaced people in Libya hoping to move on elsewhere.
European governments should not have stopped search and rescue operations last year, and the British Government was wrong to argue that this was justified in order to deter others from attempting these perilous journeys.
I welcome therefore the additional funds and resources now being committed after the European Council meeting in April. Since then, HMS Bulwark has already rescued over 2,700 people in trouble in the Mediterranean following its deployment to the area. I believe, however, that we also need a long-term, comprehensive strategy to deal with this crisis.
Britain, the EU and the UN should also look at how we can together do more to deal with the source of the crisis – such as conflict and poverty – as well as tackling the trafficking gangs that operate in North Africa and Southern Europe.
More widely, the Government need to do more to help resettle vulnerable refugees affected by the appalling conflict in Syria. Britain has a proud history of helping people fleeing persecution, yet only 187 Syrian refugees have been resettled under the Government’s current Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. The Government should now work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and seek to do more to help those affected.
Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central