2014 saw a record number of migrants dying whilst crossing the Mediterranean to reach European shores. This year, it seems the situation is set to be far worse. Over 1,500 of those attempting the crossing have died since January (3,000 died in the entirety of 2014). Urgent action is required to stop this great tragedy, save the lives of innocent people and meet our basic obligations to other human beings.
Instead of taking meaningful steps to address this crisis, this year the European Union has allocated far fewer vessels, person power and resources to preventing these deaths. Instead of recognising our duty to act, politicians from across the European Union, fearful of the electoral consequences of taking action to mitigate the problem, speak of the 'pull factor' of saving the lives of those drowning in the Mediterranean. Yesterday's proposals from the EU, which include a possible military operation to destroy boats used by people smugglers, and attempts to 'close migratory routes', are further evidence of a strategy defined by half-measures and the failure to recognise the humanity and desperation of those attempting the crossing.
The discussion surrounding the deaths of hundreds of innocent people has centred, not only on the desperation of those fleeing wars, hunger and disease, but on how we can best protect our own borders, how we can most effectively deter others from following in the footsteps of those driven to undertake the incredibly dangerous crossing.
It's easy to forget that those dying are men, women and children driven out of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic and South Sudan by war, conflict and poverty. We forget that they are often placing themselves in great danger because they feel they have no other choice. We forget that those dying are fellow human beings.
By failing to challenge toxic rhetoric on immigration, we allow our duty to the most vulnerable to be undermined.. We allow the rhetoric of the Establishment which has pinned the failings of the NHS and the housing crisis on an influx of immigrants, to undermine Britain fulfilling its moral duty.
Britain is the sixth wealthiest country in the world. We can afford to fund search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean. We can afford to ensure some of the most persecuted people in the world are not left to die in the middle of the sea, their bodies destined for unmarked graves. We can afford to stand up to the old drawbridge mentality and instead carve a new role for the UK on the world stage.
It is time for the UK to take a stand. It is time to recognise the shared responsibility we have. Instead of shirking our duty to ensuring a peaceful, stable world, we must step forward. The UK must pledge adequate funding to help with search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean. The UK must take far more than the 143 Syrian refugees resettled here in 2014. The UK must move away from the toxic, damaging and extreme language that now surrounds immigration and remember that it is only by an accident of birth that we do not face the terrifying and difficult decision faced by those who undertake the Mediterranean crossing.