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Our next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12950, in the name of Alex Rowley, on thousands of migrants dying attempting to reach Europe each year. I advise members that we are incredibly tight for time during the debate.
That the Parliament expresses its shock at the recent loss of life in the Mediterranean sea where almost 400 migrants attempting to reach the EU are believed to have died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya; supports the comments of human rights groups across Europe that have condemned the scrapping of rescue operations in the Mediterranean, which it believes is endangering the lives of thousands of desperate migrants making perilous journeys across the sea; acknowledges the comments of the human rights group, Amnesty International, which stated that “European governments’ on-going negligence towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has contributed to a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since the beginning of 2015”; believes that the decision of the EU to stop funding Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue mission last year in favour of the surveillance patrols currently being carried out by its border agency, Frontex, is a clear example of its dereliction of duty with regard to this matter; notes the evidence given to the European and External Relations Committee by Pasquale Terracciano, the Italian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who stated “We are pressing to persuade the European Union that there is an external border that is of common interest and should be managed at a common level, we are pressing other partners to make it a European priority and all political pressure is welcome to create awareness of the scale of the phenomenon”, and believes that it is the duty of all EU nations to work together to tackle this humanitarian crisis, the scale of which it considers is causing widespread concern and disbelief in the Cowdenbeath constituency and in communities across Scotland.
I thank all members of the Parliament who signed my motion and made this debate possible.
Members have received a copy of a publication from Amnesty International called, “Europe’s sinking shame: The failure to save refugees and migrants at sea”. The briefing sets out the sheer scale of the human disaster taking place in the Mediterranean, which has seen more than 1,750 men, women and children perish at sea in the first four months of this year. Everyone I have met and who I know has been shocked at the scale of the loss of life in the Mediterranean among men, women and children.
In October last year, the Italian ambassador to the United Kingdom came to this Parliament and addressed the European and External Relations Committee. He spoke of the human tragedy in the Mediterranean and said:
“We wish that there was a clearer plan. To be honest with you, the truth is that we have been left quite alone to face the tragedy.”
He talked of migrants
“drowning by the thousand in the Mediterranean Sea.”
“It is not possible for just one country, with the occasional help of Malta or Greece, to cope” with such a major crisis. He added that Italy was
“pressing other partners to make it a European priority. All political pressure is welcome to create awareness of the scale”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 9 October 2014; c 38, 39.]
of the human tragedy taking place.
Today I am speaking to this motion to raise awareness of the tragedy, but also to make the case that this Parliament must do more to speak out and to use every bit of influence that we have to make the United Kingdom Government and Governments across Europe step up and do what is necessary to stop this tragedy continuing.
The vast majority of the people at risk are the men, women and children who are travelling to Europe from the poorest countries of Africa, where poverty is endemic and opportunity is limited. Many who are seeking protection and asylum come from trouble spots such as Syria, from which there is currently no legal and safe way to get to Europe. They need our help.
We cannot say that we do not know what is happening, as Frontex—the European border protection agency in Warsaw—follows every boat that is filled with refugees and, in the past year and a half, we have been using drones and satellites to survey the borders. European authorities have carried out surveillance of people drowning in the Mediterranean. We know that people are dying.
I want to quote Pope Francis. On 19 April, after a further 600 men, women and children had died, he said:
“They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life. Faced with such a tragedy, I express my most heartfelt pain and promise to remember the victims and their families in prayer. I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated.”
“It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement. We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level”.
That is our purpose in being here today. Our country, Scotland, has a proud history of internationalism, of reaching out and of not looking the other way when fellow human beings—no matter their nationality, no matter their colour or religion, and no matter their wealth or social status—are in danger. We have to think about protecting people, not just protecting borders; we have to think about saving lives, not just saving money.
We must consider legal ways for genuine refugees to reach Europe. The United Nations refugee agency and human rights organisations such as Germany’s Pro Asylum group and Human Rights Watch have suggested that the European Union should create asylum procedures at the embassies of its member states in the same way as Switzerland has done.
The Italian navy’s operation mare nostrum rescue mission, which protected hundreds of thousands of refugees from drowning, needs funds to be fully up and running once again.
The European Union also needs to finally begin participating seriously in the UN refugee agency resettlement programme. The UN is currently seeking guest countries for several hundred thousand refugees who need to be resettled. In 2013, North America took in more than 9,000 refugees, but Germany accepted only 300. We must all do more.
The EU’s Dublin regulation, which allows refugees to apply for asylum only in their country of arrival, is an issue and we should also look at whether the visa requirement for people from crisis-torn countries—countries in conflict—should be temporarily lifted.
I do not say that those changes would stop the loss of all lives at sea, but the loss could be significantly reduced. We should send out a message that, just as when Europe once had its own refugees fleeing Europe and needing the help of the international community, we Europeans in the international community are prepared to help now.
I ask that we all remain focused on achieving action from our UK Government and from Governments across Europe, because we cannot allow the situation to continue.
Alex Rowley deserves enormous credit for bringing the debate to the chamber. There is, as we have heard, a crisis of humanity that should—and does—unite all members in the chamber. I agree not just with the tenor of Alex Rowley’s speech but with his thoughts as he has narrated them. We are talking about a catastrophe of biblical proportions. We have probably not seen such an exodus, and the kind of calamity that is being faced by individuals, on the European continent since world war two—indeed, for many generations.
It does not matter whether the individuals are black or white; Christian or Muslim; people who are seeking asylum or those who are immigrants. People—men, women and children—are drowning and dying, as Alex Rowley said, and common humanity dictates that we need to act now. Immediate action is needed. Some action is already under way, which is welcome. I even saw a tweet recently that said that the Irish navy has dispatched a vessel to assist. To be fair to the Government of Ireland, it has never been shy or slow in standing up—either in the United Nations or elsewhere—for what is right, which is welcome.
Equally, other nations—especially wealthy nations—in the EU and the wider world must do more to take their share of responsibility. Many squadrons of EU and NATO warships are currently located off the horn of Africa, and rightly so, because there are challenges from piracy. Ships are being taken by those who would hold people to ransom, and individuals are being kidnapped and not released and, sadly, sometimes slaughtered. If we can take action for commercial shipping, surely we can do much more in the name of common humanity. It is not an either/or question—the two elements are both essential.
There are underlying issues relating to immigration, but the issue that requires to be faced by all parties and all Governments in relation to this crisis is primarily not an immigration issue. Fundamentally, it is an asylum issue.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 50 per cent of those who are coming are fleeing from Syria and Eritrea. They are driven not simply by a desire to live in what many see as a better world in the west but by the necessity of getting out of a country that is war-torn, in which famine, pestilence and plague are affecting their land. That issue requires to be tackled and addressed.
Yes—there will be debates and discussions on immigration among all parties following the election, but there is first and foremost a requirement for humanity to act and, as Alex Rowley said, necessarily to address the need of individuals for asylum.
The western world has had a role to play in some of these countries. The bombs and bullets were probably not manufactured in Syria or Eritrea; they were probably sold to those countries by the same western nations that many individuals seek to get into. The problems have in some small part been created by those of us who see ourselves as the victims of people who are seeking to come here, and we require to take action on that.
I echo the points that Alex Rowley made, which members should take on board. We require to take immediate action to save lives. We should look across at the United States of America, where the steps that were taken to build a fence as a way of blocking people from coming across the Rio Grande have not worked and never will. Such steps will not work either in western Europe, where it is in many ways easier to cross the Mediterranean than it is to cross the Rio Grande. We require to solve the problem, and that means tackling war in places such as Syria and Eritrea, and ensuring that people can stay in their countries safe and healthy and can have hope and a future.
I thank my colleague and friend Alex Rowley for bringing the debate to Parliament, although in truth I fervently wish that such a debate was not necessary. However, it is necessary that we use every opportunity we have to highlight the deaths of people who are desperate enough to pay large amounts of money to smugglers who then take them out to sea in flimsy boats that they know have little chance of making the journey. It is necessary that we highlight the problems that make people leave their countries to seek new lives in Europe, and that we shine a light on the inaction of European Governments in terms of providing help and assistance to those at the front line.
In 2014, 3,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean, which was a record number. Already in 2015, however, 1,700 people have perished, which is estimated to be approximately 17 times higher than the number of those who had died by the end of April last year. That figure is all the more shocking when we consider that over the weekend just past—one weekend—Italian-led efforts rescued 7,000 more people. While the UK was gripped by election fever and the birth of the royal baby, 46 desperate people were drowning and another baby was born—a baby girl born at sea to a Nigerian woman rescued from the Mediterranean by the Italian navy. Those deaths and that birth rated barely a mention in our news cycle. That is why it is necessary that we use our voices and our Parliament to highlight the issue.
We have to ask why it is happening. It is happening because life in Syria, Eritrea, Libya, Gambia, Senegal and all the other countries from which people are fleeing makes the odds on surviving a hazardous journey in an overcrowded boat seem worth the risk. I have mentioned in previous debates the plight of refugees from Syria and the fact that their near neighbours in Jordan and Turkey have between them accommodated somewhere in the region of 3 million displaced people. Today, I want to look at Eritrea.
In recent discussions with organisations in my constituency, I became aware that large numbers of people from Eritrea are now living in the communities of Maryhill and Springburn, and I was told that many of them are young people who are trying to escape the mandatory conscription that now applies in their country. It is no ordinary conscription, as it has no limit. People can be conscripted at 20 and still be in the army at 45. Some people pay army officers large sums of money in the hope of being released. Others are told that, in return for what are euphemistically called sexual favours, their commanding officer will allow them to go, but release on those terms rarely happens. Is it any wonder that families are smuggling their sons and daughters out of the country at great risk to the young people involved and at great cost to their families?
The Italian Government deserves respect for what it has tried to do, as does its commercial fleet, but it cannot patrol all of the Mediterranean alone. It needs help, and the international community needs to find a way to help to stabilise the countries that people are fleeing from and to support good governance there. That must be the long-term goal but, in the meantime, Europe must fund rescue missions in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. The idea that seems to be current in some Governments that, by ending support for such rescues, we can discourage migrants from making the attempt is not just callous and inhumane; it is useless, as the numbers show no sign of abating.
As Alex Rowley said, legal asylum must take the place of the illegal smuggling of people. Together we must make it a European priority.
I, too, congratulate Alex Rowley on securing today’s debate on a highly distressing and significant issue, which I readily accept is a matter of major public concern to people across Scotland, including many of my constituents in the Highlands and Islands. Surely all of us in the chamber have been shocked and horrified by the appalling loss of lives of migrants in the Mediterranean. Indeed, the European Council has rightly called the situation a “tragedy”, and our thoughts go out to the poor souls who have drowned and to their families.
We know that our British Government has made a bigger contribution to foreign aid than any other in Europe. However, while admitting that, we know also that the Government has acknowledged that the arrangements that have existed in the Mediterranean since last October have simply been unsuccessful and insufficient. It is committed to working with EU partners to improve search and rescue services. The recent European Council meeting achieved agreement on a number of key measures that are aimed at preventing further loss of life at sea. Specifically, the UK Government has announced that HMS Bulwark, three helicopters and two border patrol ships have been sent as part of the EU’s extra efforts in operations Triton and Poseidon.
I completely agree with the statements made by the UK Government and our EU partners that, although our sympathies must of course go out to migrants and their families and friends, our anger and focus must be strongly directed against the organised criminal gangs that are profiting from this vile people trading and murder. Stopping that trafficking is a huge international challenge that needs a co-ordinated response, and I warmly welcome the fact that the UK Government has offered the services of our National Crime Agency and security services to help to identify and target the traffickers. They should try to identify the useless boats that are liable to be used and take them out of the equation somehow.
The other massive international challenge that the UK is working on with other member states is addressing the factors in Libya and other countries in Africa and elsewhere that are driving migrants to want to come to Europe. There are no easy answers on that, but the UK Government is investing very significant amounts in its aid programme in the key source countries. All countries must do whatever is in their power to support UN-led efforts to re-establish Government authority in Libya. That must be fundamental.
The debate is useful in allowing the Parliament to express our and our constituents’ sympathies for the migrants who have drowned and to unite in condemning the criminal gangs that are taking advantage of vulnerable people and profiting from the appalling trade in human beings. Our European and External Relations Committee is considering whether to undertake some work on EU migration. If it does, I am sure that the debate will help to inform any work that it might do on what we can all agree is a huge international challenge.
One thing is sure: Italy cannot be expected to cope with the problem on her own. It is surely an opportunity for the members of the EU to unite for humanity and practical assistance. The EU must step forward and show its worth. Operation mare nostrum needs funds and it is time for action, not for looking the other way.
I add my thanks and congratulations to Alex Rowley for bringing this important debate to the Parliament. He and other members have used the right language in it: we have talked and heard about human beings facing danger. How different that is from the rhetoric that represents those people as a threat to us, which we hear not only in this country but in a number of other European countries. They are not a threat to us; they are human beings and we must reach out in a spirit of compassion rather than have a response to the crisis that is driven by fear, as so many seek to make it—especially in this frenetic election period.
Alex Rowley also said that our policy response must place greater priority on protecting lives than it does on protecting borders. That is absolutely right and—once again—contrasts with much of the rhetoric in our political debate at the moment. A response that is geared towards protecting lives will not only re-establish the search and rescue operations but will establish safe routes for people to flee from persecution, conflict, poverty and other factors.
I am not convinced by the arguments of people who call for a security-led response—a military response. I have heard calls for boats to be destroyed and for other approaches that are primarily about deterrence and protecting borders. If we take such an approach and disrupt the unsafe routes of passage, it will only make the human beings who use them more vulnerable to the threats and dangers that they face. We have to place safe routes of passage before them rather than merely disrupt the unsafe ones. That is a critical difference.
Frontex and operation Triton are geared towards deterrence and protecting borders. Simply putting search and rescue operations into their remit is not enough. We need to change that remit entirely and place the emphasis on protecting lives and people, as Mr Rowley said, and not principally on protecting borders.
We must look at the causes of people fleeing—the things that we should label as threats. They include conflict, poverty and persecution. Already, climate change is a driver of migration. It will continue to grow as a significant driver of migration during this century and may become a dominant driver. As Kenny MacAskill said, we must take responsibility for the contribution that we have so shamefully made to those problems, threats and things that cause fear.
We must recognise that people have a right to seek to migrate, whether for asylum or because of conflict, climate change, persecution or poverty. The criminals who exploit them, whether through trafficking or exploiting their labour when they reach a country of safety—in which they often do not experience the same degree of safety that we would expect to experience in our lives—must be treated as criminals. However, the causes of that migration must be recognised and, fundamentally, the rights of people to flee those causes of human suffering must be our priority. I commend Alex Rowley again for his motion and for his choice of topic for debate.
This is one of the occasions in the hubbub of political debate and disagreement that shows that, actually, all of us politicians here are more united by issues than we are divided by them. I do not expect to hear a contrarian voice on this subject. In the past 24 hours, Al Jazeera has reported that six operations have rescued 600 migrants. The operations mainly involved Italy, but they also involved Malta, which is a very small jurisdiction that has a population similar to Edinburgh’s. I join others in congratulating Alex Rowley on bringing the topic for debate, which is timely, appropriate and necessary.
In its briefing, Amnesty International tells us that
“3.9 million refugees are registered in Syria’s neighbouring countries and Egypt.”
However, since 2013, the EU has offered 40,000 places—one would barely notice that anyone had been removed from those 3.9 million. I say “Well done” to Germany, which provided 30,000 of those places.
Alex Rowley’s motion focuses on the mare nostrum rescue mission, which has been stopped, and its replacement. Amnesty has provided us with a graphic illustration of how our support has reduced. We used to have six helicopters; we now have one. We used to spend £9.5 million; we now spend less than £3 million. Let us get an idea of the scale of that: the amount of money that is being spent on helping people who are escaping from threat, poverty and hunger is less than one tenth of what we spend on providing the free bus pass in Scotland. That is how tiny the amount of money that is being spent to support people in personal extremity is.
Since the support for what is happening in the Mediterranean has reduced and retreated closer to Italy, meaning that help is many times further away from Libya, we have seen a huge increase in the number of casualties that are resulting from the problem.
“the number one priority for us”, but when you match words to the deeds it is not all that obvious that we are going—
Does Stewart Stevenson agree that if the EU spent as much time and effort on protecting and enhancing the lives of people across the globe as it does on protecting its own economic interests we would be in a much better place and would not see the catastrophes that we are seeing?
I will stick within the strict four minutes that I have been allocated and sum up. In 1947, the Labour Government passed an act to support the Poles, so we know that there is good will among the members to my left. We have also heard good will from Jamie McGrigor on the right. The bottom line is that this must not be a borders issue. It is about common decency and humanity. I support every word of Alex Rowley’s motion.
I thank my colleague Alex Rowley for bringing such an important members’ business debate to the chamber. Only a few weeks ago, we witnessed the highly distressing scenes that dominated the headlines but, as Patricia Ferguson highlighted, the news cycle moves on. The crisis is still very much on-going, and there were reports of more rescues and deaths in the Mediterranean at the weekend. With no long-term solution on the horizon, it is right that we use time today to highlight a heart-breaking and complex crisis.
May has only just begun but we are heading towards 2015 being the deadliest year for migrants attempting to escape persecution and find a better life in Europe. That must urge us all to action.
The solution is far from simple. Many push-and-pull factors need to be addressed, and the next couple of months will be crucial. The European Commission is moving towards completion of its agenda for migration, which must play a vital role in addressing the crisis in the Mediterranean, and must ensure that our summer months are not filled with more horrific stories of innocent people dying.
The decision to cancel operation mare nostrum and to use operation Triton instead was simply wrong and was taken for all the wrong reasons. As the decision was being taken, clear warnings were being given that the consequences would be fatal. The logic that scaling back the rescue operation would result in fewer people attempting to make the voyage was clearly flawed. It failed to take into account the human trafficking aspect of the Mediterranean crisis or the fact that for many migrants and refugees the risk of staying in Libya was, and remains, greater than the serious risk of trying to cross the sea.
If we are to find long-term solutions to the problem, the question we should ask is not about where the migrants want to go or how we stop them; rather, we should ask why they are risking their lives and those of their children and families to leave family and friends behind. We face new dangers in the world when ideology fails to recognise borders. Conflicts extent beyond countries and spread quickly throughout regions.
The majority of the boats that try to cross the Mediterranean depart from Libya but almost half the people in the boats are Syrians or Eritreans who are trying to flee war, poverty and persecution. They find themselves in a country that they are not from and do not want to be in. As conflicts escalate, countries become unrecognisable to their own people and the desire and need of many to escape grows.
Those who have read the Amnesty International briefing will be aware of the dangers that migrants have to face on such trips. The case studies that are described in the briefing are heart-breaking and the details are harrowing. As the debate continues, we must all remember that.
That is why we need to introduce a full and proper search and rescue mission that is not just about patrolling Italian borders but focuses on saving the lives of those who are in jeopardy. In the current circumstances, what we are facing in the Mediterranean is not a crisis about border controls but a humanitarian crisis.
If we are to deal with the crisis, we must look to address the root causes of men, women and children being willing to risk their lives to flee to Europe. The problems are complex, as are the solutions. They will require an understanding of global pressures and an acceptance in Europe that, although we have a border, we are global citizens with the responsibility to play our part in addressing the world’s problems and in securing a better future for people around the globe.
I join other members in congratulating Alex Rowley on securing a debate on this hugely important issue. I also thank Amnesty and Save the Children for their briefings, and I declare my membership of both.
Amnesty talks about thousands of people fleeing from conflict, persecution and violence, and trying to reach safety. The conflict has been fuelled by the ready availability of armaments, many of which have been designed and manufactured in and sold from Scotland, so we are under an obligation.
People are fleeing persecution. The west’s attitude to the Arab spring sent a very confusing message. There was initial support but then an indication that we are not that bothered about democracy but about who is in charge and access to resources. That has resulted in a violent and brutal backlash, much of which passes without comment.
Many people are leaving Libya, which is in a state of anarchy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice is against all travel to Libya. Indeed, it urges British nationals to leave immediately. However, the Government is also urging other people to stay there, despite the shortage of medical supplies, water and food. The situation is similar in Tunisia and Egypt, and there is lengthy advice about travel to those areas.
We know that the Mediterranean route is the most dangerous and lethal in the world. However, for those who are desperate enough to attempt it, it is clearly better than the alternative, whether that is Syria, Eritrea or, as is increasingly likely, west Africa, where conflict is rife.
It is entirely wrong to lay the responsibility entirely at the door of Italy. As the motion states, the Italian ambassador to the UK spoke of a
“common interest” that should be
“managed at a common level”.
That is entirely right. The decision to end operation mare nostrum, Italy’s search and rescue operation, was taken in agreement with the EU, and the situation therefore demands an EU response.
Common humanity has been mentioned a number of times. We know that operation mare nostrum was replaced by operation Triton, which involves patrolling borders in smaller craft, nearer to the shore and further from the north African coast—previously, the patrols went 95 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. Alex Rowley noted that technology allows us to be fully aware of the tragedy that is occurring. We are increasingly reliant on coastguards and on the humanity of people on commercial ships. I found out, while looking into this matter, that all shipmasters are bound by an obligation that is codified in the international law of the sea, to render assistance to those who are in distress at sea, regardless of their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found. That is a sound foundation for any operation that the EU might mount. It is important to praise the Italian coastguards and the armed forces of Malta.
Many members here will have signed Stewart Maxwell’s fine motion on Nepal, which talks about the contribution of six firefighters from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who are working with colleagues from across the United Kingdom to provide support that will include medical assistance and search and rescue missions. That is proactive humanitarian support, and it is right that we applaud it.
There was a news report yesterday about dozens of people drowning off the coast of Italy. Some members will have seen the footage that showed an overladen craft, terror on everyone’s faces and a bewildered toddler girl, sitting in the middle and looking to adults for support. These people are victims; they are not the accused. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Europe must step up the capacity to save lives.
Triton is a mythical Greek god. In Virgil’s “Aeneid”, we are told that Triton killed Misenus by drowning him.
Alex Rowley talked about the need for this Parliament to speak out, and I think that that is what we are doing. Next week, the EU presents its operational plan. We are not only calling for an expansion of the search and rescue operation; we are hoping for action to address the reasons why thousands of people flee conflict, persecution and violence to reach safety in the first place.
I thank Alex Rowley for lodging this motion, and I assure him and other members who have spoken that the Scottish Government is fully committed to doing whatever we can to address the on-going tragedies and the devastating loss of human lives. Indeed, we have offered assistance in the past year. This Parliament in the north-west of the EU should stand in solidarity with the Europe of the south and with the distressed and dying people in the Mediterranean.
It is with profound sadness that I note that the situation in the Mediterranean has slipped from recent news headlines. That is despite reports that nearly 6,800 people were rescued in separate incidents over the weekend and the bodies of 10 people were recovered. One of those rescued was a heavily pregnant woman who gave birth to a daughter on her rescue ship—I understand that there have been six such births on naval vessels.
Although reporting of those human tragedies might fluctuate, the deaths and misery continue. It is vital that we never forget what has happened, and continues to happen, in the Mediterranean. Today’s debate in the Parliament helps to keep the issue at the forefront of our minds.
The news headlines do not tell stories of single humanitarian disasters. They represent only a fraction of thousands of individual human stories of war, climate change and extreme poverty, spanning years and decades. That human suffering drives people to take unimaginable risks for themselves and their families in pursuit of a safer and better life.
The deaths of so many vulnerable migrants is an issue that I have raised persistently since 2013. It was in 2013 that the world learned of what has become known as the Lampedusa disaster, which occurred when hundreds of migrants died in a shipwreck off the Italian coast, despite the best efforts of the Italian coastguard to rescue as many people as possible. I was in Italy a few days after that disaster, and I heard the then Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta declare of the hundreds who had died, “They are all Italians now.”
The horror of the Lampedusa disaster was not an isolated incident; it was just one that made the news. Such incidents are an issue not just for the Italians, but for all of us as members of the human race and humanitarians. Vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers have been desperately fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean for years. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in recent decades.
After the Lampedusa disaster, migrants have continued to search for safety using that route. Most worryingly, it is now believed that the number of migrant journeys will reach its peak this summer. Those journeys will be accompanied by terror, misery and death unless, as a global and European community, we act.
Since I first raised the issue in 2013, I have continued to raise the need for multilateral action at the joint ministerial committee and in correspondence with the UK Minister of State for Europe and the UK Minister of State for Security and Immigration. Throughout my campaigning on the issue, I have endeavoured to stress that the EU’s abandoning of search and rescue—in which it was supported by the UK—was simply wrong. It was wrong from the point of view of basic human decency and compassion, and it was wrong in practical and pragmatic terms. I am pleased that there has been an emergency EU summit on the issue, but Europe must adopt a long-term strategic approach to address such tragedies, as many members have stressed.
Our strategic action needs to look at where people are fleeing from and why. Many of them are from Syria and Eritrea, as we have heard, and many are coming from Libya. Men, women and children are dying in the Mediterranean, but the issue goes beyond the confines of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy or the EU. As part of our strategic efforts, we must look at the displacement of millions of people and provide support for the rehabilitation and compassionate treatment of refugees in their countries of origin. If there is no effective rescue operation, that will not stop desperate people fleeing desperate situations and taking ever greater risks to reach Europe.
Outside of our Scottish Parliament, there has, in my view, been too much of a focus in the media and in political debate on a response that involves criminalising human traffickers. However, many of the migrants are not being trafficked, and such a focus can be misleading. It obscures the reality that many vulnerable migrants feel compelled to make such perilous journeys in search of safety. For reasons that are extremely difficult for us to understand, many of the migrants in question have paid for the transportation that may lead to their death and the death of their children, so they are not being trafficked. The situation requires there to be a focus on the vulnerable victims themselves, and it must be addressed as a humanitarian issue.
Humanitarian issues are by their nature cross border and pan-European. Together, we must prevent the Mediterranean from continuing to be a watery grave for so many people who are fleeing conflict, fear and hate. The EU must take collective responsibility, and the agreement of four priority actions at the emergency summit is a start, but it is only a start and it must not be a temporary political fix.
We must stand together. We must not treat the situation in the Mediterranean as a Frontex or a borders issue. The Italian Government needs long-term support from its EU partners. The UK is not a member of Frontex, as it is not part of the Schengen area, but the UK must play a full part in supporting our Italian friends and colleagues. Italy should not bear the responsibility and tragic misery by itself, and the UK must not just make a one-time offer of help when the Mediterranean is in the news headlines.
That is why our debate here in the Scottish Parliament is so important. As parliamentarians, we must encourage parliamentary scrutiny of the issue at not just European but domestic level. Now is the time for the incoming UK Government to approach the issue differently. It should adopt a humanitarian, strategic and multilateral approach. I am sure that that would be supported across the Parliament.
In my correspondence with the UK Government last November and again in January 2015, I said that the Scottish Government stands ready to help. We have also said to the UK Government that we can play our part in whatever co-operation is required on Syrian refugees. We will continue to make those offers.
I know that members across the Parliament also stand ready to help in whatever way they can, and that they are prepared to support the Scottish and UK Governments on the issue. By standing together in solidarity and taking long-term strategic action, we can make a difference, and we will continue to do all that we can to address this devastating humanitarian crisis.
I undertake to ensure that the new UK Government is fully informed of our debate, our concerns and our commitment to the vulnerable people of the Mediterranean.