LONDON (AFP) – Britain will not support planned EU search and rescue operations to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to reach Europe, the foreign office said on Tuesday.
The comment comes as the Italian sea operation Mare Nostrum, which rescued 150,000 migrants in the Mediterranean in the past year, is due to end this week.
The foreign office said that the government’s position had been laid out in a response to a question published by the House of Lords website on October 15.
“We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean,” foreign office minister Joyce Anelay wrote in the response.
“We believe that they create an unintended “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.”
The government’s position is to focus on “countries of origin and transit” and tackle people smugglers instead, she added.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has put curbing immigration at the centre of efforts to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU, under pressure from the rising popularity of the anti-immigration and anti-EU UK Independence Party ahead of May’s general election.
A limited joint EU Mediterranean operation “Triton” is due to begin in November, which will help but not replace “continued substantial efforts” by Italian authorities, according to the European Commission.
Italy has long demanded more help from other European countries to help with increasing number of migrants making the dangerous crossing in flimsy and crowded boats, as they flee conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa.