Millions of migrants could arrive on boats in Europe over the next few years unless countries such as Italy and Greece send a clear message that they will be turned back, Ukip leader Nigel Farage has said.
Mr Farage urged Prime Minister David Cameron to resist pressure at an emergency summit of EU leaders in Brussels today for Britain to take in large numbers of those being brought across the Mediterranean by people-smugglers, insisting that the UK cannot take more than “a few thousand” genuine refugees.
We as a country can’t take unlimited numbers of peopleNigel Farage
His comments came as experts warned that up to 30,000 migrants, including 2,500 children, could be killed this year unless the crisis is tackled.
Around 800 people are believed to have drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on Saturday, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Just 28 people are known to have survived the tragedy, described by UNHCR as “the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean we have ever recorded”.
The death toll from capsizing disasters stands at 1,727 so far this year – 30 times higher than the 56 fatalities by 21 April last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
If it continues at its recent rate, the total for this year could reach 30,000.
The Prime Minister and other European leaders are under mounting pressure to come up with a plan to stem the rising number of migrants killed trying to cross the sea for a better life in Europe.
Mr Farage said Britain bore a burden of responsibility for the flow of migrants heading out of north Africa because of its military interventions in countries like Libya and Iraq. He said he was happy for Royal Navy ships to take part in search and rescue operations in the area, and for funds currently spent on overseas aid and EU contributions to be diverted to help people in the countries involved.
But the Ukip leader said: “The big message has to come from Italy, the big message has to come from Greece.
“The Australian prime minister said it yesterday: unless we send a message that we are not going to unconditionally accept unlimited numbers of people, they will keep coming.
“That’s a decision that’s got to be taken by the southern Mediterranean countries. What is the message from Italy and Greece? Is it that anybody that comes will be accepted? Because if it is, millions of people could be coming over the next couple of years.
“I’m suggesting that they should be making sure that those people coming in vessels that are not seaworthy should be put into vessels which are seaworthy and taken back to where they came from.
“There may be some cases where people genuinely need refugee status and if Britain has to give a helping hand and give, for example, some Christians refugee status… then fine.”
Asked how many refugees he would be willing for the UK to take, Mr Farage said: “I would suggest a few thousand, because we as a country can’t take unlimited numbers of people. The Prime Minister is going to be under intense pressure on Thursday for us to take really very big numbers and I am afraid we simply can’t do that.”
Mr Cameron has faced criticism for cutting funding for search and rescue operations in the area.
British military chiefs are understood to be preparing to offer one of the country’s biggest warships to help tackle the refugee crisis. HMS Bulwark, a 176-metre launchpad for helicopters and small vessels which protected London during the 2012 Olympics, is understood to be among the options.