We are now witnessing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War and a humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean.
Last year, the European Union says, 280,000 people entered illegally – 230,000 of them crossed the Mediterranean.
Yesterday EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg. Prime minister Joseph Muscat of Malta – the most densely populated nation in Europe, where the corpses are brought in daily – met Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, whose country is overwhelmed, with more migrants in Lampedusa than native inhabitants.
It will not be easy to find a solution. There is no common EU policy on immigration, with nations jealously guarding their admission procedures at a time when the issue is the most toxic in politics.
For a long time, it was convenient to let the Italian navy and coastguard get on with Operation Mare Nostrum, but that ended last October. UK Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay and Theresa May, Home Secretary, said the Italian policy had created an unintended “pull” factor and the EU should concentrate on the countries of origin and tackling the traffickers.
I trust the government will, therefore, support the European Commission, which is suggesting that processing centres be set up in North Africa, maybe in embassies or EU offices, so that the genuine asylum cases, where migrants are escaping persecution or wars, can be differentiated from the economic migrants.
In Malta, it is widely believed that migrants reaching the mainland disappear north from Italy – and that the traffickers are now in daily contact with the Italian ships implementing the scaled-back Operation Triton policy, to alert them to where the unseaworthy, overcrowded, decrepit boats with little fuel are. These traffickers are in Libya, attracted by the power vacuum and lawlessness, and the EU knows where they operate from.
France and Germany are supporting the European Commission. If Operation Mare Nostrum was reinstated, with some Royal Navy help, and the economic migrants landing in Italy, Greece and disproportionately affected Malta were to be flown home, after being fed and given medical attention; then this disaster that the Pope, the United Nations’ refugee agency and charity Save The Children speak of, can be tackled.
Last year, at least 3,500 people died making the crossing. Malta says the figure is 1,600 this year already. A summit is long overdue.
John V Lloyd
Your picture (News, 20 April) raises questions.
The contingent of rescued migrants photographed aboard an Italian navy vessel comprises adult or nearly-adult males. Were the females and children safe below decks? Or were they on another vessel? Or were they simply not important enough to be rescued?
The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is difficult even to watch on our TV screens. Most of the refugees appear genuine, fleeing war and unprecedented slaughter in Syria and Libya.
The West, including the UK and notably then-foreign secretary William Hague, must bear a good deal of responsibility for the Libyan situation. He pushed for backing and arming one faction in the Libyan “Arab Spring” and we are now witnessing the results of such folly.
The perhaps well-intentioned decision to invade Iraq and rid the world of Saddam Hussein had similar results and much the same will surely result if the Assad regime in Syria is toppled.
For all the despotic and iron rod rule of these dictators, they offered the people stability and relative peace. Most of all they kept a lid on centuries-old, smouldering sectarian, nationalist and tribal differences. We should be even more careful about becoming involved in any Middle East conflict.
New Cut Rigg