15 JUN 2015

Refugees and Mediterranean

This is a very serious problem. Gangs are profiting from the misery of their fellow humans, selling them false promises before loading them on to dangerous vessels and sending them, in many cases, to their deaths.

This problem is not new, but it is growing. It demands a clear response from European nations, and if we are to stop it, we must adopt the right approach. We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys - or which makes it easier for the gangs responsible for their misery. That is why the UK will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation. The UK has now sent the Royal Navy's flagship, HMS Bulwark, along with three Merlin helicopters and two border patrol ships.

I do think that in providing support to address the immediate situation, we have to make sure we are not doing anything to make the problem worse. We must distinguish between those genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life. While the UK has a proud tradition of providing refuge for those who need it, we must not provide new incentives for those simply seeking to come for economic reasons.

The EU should work to establish safe landing sites in North Africa, underpinned by an active programme of returns. We should use military, intelligence and crime-fighting assets to deliver search and rescue mechanisms, and also to crack down on the traffickers who are putting people at risk. As well as this, we are working to stop the problem at source, such as the more than £800 million in aid to support refugees from the Syrian crisis. As I have said, not all those trying to cross the Mediterranean are refugees and we need to slow people's travel through transit countries, encourage them to return to their country of origin, or help them build a better life in other countries rather than trying to make the dangerous journey to Europe.

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