Leaders: Naval mission failing to deter people smugglers

RESCUING refugees in the Mediterranean is a worthy task but it's treating the symptoms while the root cause of the crisis festers

Picture: AP
Picture: AP

The little boats in the Mediterranean, crammed full to the gills of desperate refugees, send ripples far beyond the Italian coast.

The mass migration is one of the great human tragedies of our time, a modern-day Odyssey washing masses of human suffering on to the shores of Europe.

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Attempts by the EU to tackle the people smugglers profiting out of this misery in the central Mediterranean have failed in their aims, according to a new report by the House of Lords EU committee.

A major naval mission, Operation Sophia, has been trying to curb the flow of smugglers between Libya and Italy following a series of disasters where hundreds of refugees drowned.

The committee has taken the view that this approach is not working.

They concluded that Operation Sophia was not disrupting smugglers “in any meaningful way” and the destruction of wooden boats meant the migrants were being conveyed in rubber dinghies, placing them at even greater risk.

These boats are only low-level targets and it is clear that the world’s attention needs to be turned to tackling the root of the problem.

The House of Lords report said: “However valuable as a search and rescue mission, Operation Sophia does not, and, we argue, cannot deliver its mandate. It responds to symptoms, not causes.”

Libya’s weakened state is one of the biggest difficulties faced, as it allows ruthless and lawless people to take advantage of its lack of government.

The other problem is the EU mission is prevented from operating within Libyan waters so the initiative lacks teeth. Nothing can be done there unless we intervene again in Libya and that would be folly.

Many of these migrants are from Sub-Saharan Africa, and they are fleeing a plethora of horrors in their own lands.

More needs to be done to support these nations so people do not feel the need to risk their lives in extraordinarily dangerous boat crossings to Europe. As questions are asked about the amount of foreign aid Britain gives out it should be remembered that helping others more unfortunate than ourselves is the right thing to do. Obviously there have to be safeguards that the aid given reaches the people it is designed for, and if there is evidence of corruption that cannot be bypassed then there are some tough decision to be made, but ensuring a more peaceful and stable situation in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is the only way to stop the surge of people putting themselves in danger as they head for Europe.

But in the meantime we have to understand that, by patrolling the waters between Libya and Italy, the operation is arresting some people smugglers and that will dissuade others, and it is rescuing people who might otherwise drown.

The Lords committee is probably right in that the mandate is not being fulfilled, but that does not mean no good is being done.

School should trump holidays

Removing a child from school to take them on holiday is a contentious issue.

Perhaps it is a natural resistance to being instructed on how to parent by the state. Perhaps the feeling is that it interferes with the choices parents make in raising their children and the next step would be legislation covering diet and exercise or other intrusive measures.

But the chances are it is more likely to do with the parent’s interests than the child’s. So is Jon Platt’s court victory a victory for parents?

He refused to pay a £60 fine for taking his daughter out of school for a visit to Disney World in Florida. Largely, it has to be said, on a technicality as the week she failed to attend did not amount to her failing to attend school regularly as stated by the law. It is true that the increase in the cost of holidays during school holidays can amount to many hundreds of pounds for families. In England most just see a £60 fine as still far cheaper than paying the increased costs. This is borne out by figures that show English local education authorities issued 50,414 fines in 2014/15 for children taken out of school for term-time breaks.

In Scotland there is no £60 fine. Instead Local Education Authorities can issue “attendance orders” to make a parent explain a pupil’s absence – if parents don’t comply they can be taken to court.

That is probably a more sensible approach. Parents should be given some leeway. At some times in school careers or in the school term there is not much missed at school, but there can be no doubt that over all a good education will always be better for the child than a “good” holiday.