Saturday 10 December 2016

Despite our coffin ships, we too have failed the refugees

Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30

Flowers are seen, during a silent commemoration for the victims of a boat accident, in Vienna (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
Flowers are seen, during a silent commemoration for the victims of a boat accident, in Vienna (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
The wreckage of a boat used by migrants is seen in Catania's Harbour, Italy, Monday. A smuggler's boat crammed with hundreds of people overturned off Libya's coast on Saturday as rescuers approached, causing what could be the Mediterranean's deadliest known migrant tragedy. So far rescuers saved 28 people and recovered 24 bodies (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
People hold a sign reading "rescue" during a silent commemoration for the victims of a boat accident, in Vienna, April 20. As many as 700 migrants were feared dead on Sunday after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean, raising pressure on Europe to face down anti-immigrant bias and find money for support as turmoil in Libya and the Middle East worsens the crisis (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

Yesterday, politicians in the EU, who effectively signed the death warrants of the 1,500 refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year, were wringing their hands about those deaths. But they must have known their decision to dramatically scale back a search-and-rescue mission, cutting its funding by one-third, would necessarily result in huge loss of life.

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In fact, they were warned. Amnesty International said: "history will judge this decision as unforgiveable" and, in case there was any confusion, "many lives will be lost in the Mediterranean Sea unless EU member states step up to ensure a fully fledged, joint search and rescue operation".

But they didn't. They said it was essential that rescue missions were downsized so that migrants would be discouraged from coming to Europe. A statement from the British Home Office, defending the UK's decision to end its support for the rescue mission, perversely said it was resulting in even more deaths - that more people were willing to risk their lives because they knew there was a greater chance of being saved.

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