Recent tragedies in the Med have shown that the Conservative-led government's decision to end the 'Mare Nostrum' rescue program has been disastrous.
Labour in the European Parliament warned against this at the time, but unfortunately the government ploughed on. Contrary to what Theresa May and Philip Hammond intimated last year, a lack of search and rescue capacity has not deterred people from trying to cross the Mediterranean. Many are so desperate that they will try and cross whether the EU is pulling together to fund rescue services or not. Indeed it is now clear that the Conservatives' decision not to fund Mare Nostrum amounted to leaving people to drown to send an unsuccessful political message.
My political group, the Socialists and Democrats, pushed the European Council (the meeting of European heads of government) to call an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in the Mediterranean. It was good that European leaders heeded this call earlier this week, and I was pleased to see that the meeting agreed a trebling of support for Triton, the current rescue programme. Triton, however, only covers a small part- 30 miles- of the Italian coastline. As my Labour colleague Claude Moraes points out here, Mare Nostrum was far more wideranging. Claude leads the parliament on migration issues, and argues that a much more expansive approach is needed 'if we are serious about preventing deaths at sea'- and I agree with him.
We also- of course- need to target traffickers; but we need to accept that they would not be able to operate if Libya was not in the lawless mess it is currently. I recently signed a letter addressed to the team who are currently negotiating with the Libyan authorities on behalf of the EU, in which I, along with other Socialist MEPs, called for all for measures to prevent loss of life at the Libyan coast to be included in ongoing peace talks between Libyan parties. Ed Miliband is absolutely right in drawing attention to the need for a far greater focus on stablising Libya, and we should not shy away from accepting that Britain could have played a larger part in preventing the current humanitarian and security crisis in that country.
Nor should we shy away from difficult questions about the impact of migration from zones of war and extreme poverty. Countries like Turkey and Jordan are currently sheltering tens of thousands of refugees from Syria- and yet the Conservative-led government's programme for Syrian refugees in the UK has taken less than 150 people. We should deal with the current humanitarian crisis in a rational, rather than emotional, way, and that means facing up to the fact that not one European country falls within the UN's top ten lists of countries that receive refugees- despite what our media would sometimes have us believe.
Finally, we need to do all we can to bring peace and prosperity to the countries that people are fleeing from. Rather than turning our back on the rest of the world- as some would like us to do- we have to engage more, by encouraging more fair and free trade, humanitarian aid where needed, and acting against those Western companies that benefit greatly from developing countries' natural resources, but sometimes put little back.