THE BLOG

Turn the Guns on Katie Hopkins and the Traffickers by All Means, But Don't Forget Cameron

23/04/2015 12:11 BST | Updated 23/06/2015 10:59 BST

Over the past week the equivalent of five plane loads of people have drowned in the Mediterranean. More than one thousand one hundred bloated bodies bobbing on the tide or sent to a watery grave, and it is to the shame of all of Europe.

They drowned - many of them apparently locked below deck in an upturned boat. The horror of their last moments is utterly unimaginable.

Contributing to the soaring sum of human misery, Katie Hopkins piled on in to state how unmoved she was by the deaths. Nothing, it seems, could persuade her to care about the plight of these fathers, daughters, babies. Whilst her lack of empathy is almost too engineered to be alarming, it's worth noting that the position of the UK government before the most recent tragedies is itself indefensible, unforgivable even. Before we turn our guns on Katie Hopkins, it's important to keep the people who actually wield the power in our sights. European leaders are gathering in Brussels today at an emergency summit on the crisis, among them our own Prime Minister and from a leaked draft statement, it appears they will not back the reintroduction of search and rescue operations on anything like a sufficient scale.

Last year, the UK government went on the record to state that they don't support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean because it could create a 'pull factor' enticing people to take to the seas confident in the knowledge that help was there, should they need it. Predictably, that argument has been shown to be not only deeply inhumane but shockingly naive. Syrian refugees and others setting off on these dangerous journeys are often fleeing conflict - including in Libya, from which many of these people embark and which is a state of violent turmoil. War, poverty and persecution are what make desperate people take terrible risks, not the vague prospect of rescue. You might get in a boat if you had ISIS on your back.

Trying to deter these people by refusing to continue search and rescue is neither humane nor practical. And yet, that is what we have been doing. Turning our backs while desperate people drown. History will judge us for this failure. Thousands of migrants drowning in the seas so many of us enjoy on our holidays.

This is not a new phenomenon of course, but this week politicians have been forced to speak out, due in no small part to the sheer quantity of lives lost. Prime Minister David Cameron rightly called it a dark day for Europe, but in terms of our response, whilst he conceded there should be 'an element of search and rescue' the focus, he felt, should be on the people smugglers.

The people smugglers, like Katie Hopkins, are no doubt a blessed distraction from the government's point of view. Those responsible for putting people to sea in grossly overcrowded and unseaworthy boats are rightly condemned. But who is going to focus on the particulars of policy and the politicians who formulate it? For focus on the policy we must.

This is a pan-European emergency, which requires a pan-European response. We need to reinstate the search and rescue operations immediately and this time it must be properly funded, including by the UK. It is completely unacceptable to refuse help when we know men, women and children are drowning in their hundreds.

It's clear the system's broke, we must fix it. If we don't, cruel as it's been, April may not prove to be the cruellest month.

Call on Cameron to reinstate the search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean at his emergency meeting in Brussels at www.amnesty.org.uk/save