Europe has a responsibility to save lives in the Mediterranean

Labour Party

Europe’s leaders are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the current crisis in the Mediterranean.

The heavy death toll has provoked a huge amount of shock, grief and solidarity. However, the response from EU governments – who hold the power to intervene – has not been loud and clear.

Ed Miliband has stated his position unreservedly – were he Prime Minister, he would be attending today’s summit to make a strong case for stepping up the humanitarian search and rescue operations.

Along with my colleagues in the Socialists and Democrats group, I have urged heads of government to set up an EU humanitarian mission supported by adequate tools and financial resources. Our immediate aim must be saving the lives of those in distress at sea. It is clear that the decision to scale down rescue operations was a mistake with profound and fatal consequences.

Alongside the rescue operation, any EU mission must have the dual responsibility for identifying smugglers and traffickers and using the full force of the law to prevent further tragedies.

I have written this week about the need for a dynamic response from the EU on human trafficking. The traffickers and smugglers are operating within complex networks and exploiting volatile circumstances. Our response must be equally dynamic and multifaceted.

In the longer term, we should aim to establish a humanitarian corridor on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Ultimately, we need to address the problem at source. The instability wrought by unresolved conflicts in Syria, Libya and in the Horn of Africa has displaced unprecedented numbers of people. This has allowed human trafficking to proliferate.

Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are taking the overwhelming majority of refugees from Syria. To give some perspective, Lebanon, a country of just five million people, is hosting a million Syrians. Europe has a responsibility to do more.

Let’s hope there is the political resolve to instigate a response that is immediate, targeted and humane.