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MP’s concerns over UK’s approach to migrant crisis

A group of mostly Syrian refugees arriving in the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Photo: UNHCR

NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has accused the UK Government of adopting “tactics without a strategy” in its approach towards the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday after it emerged that the Royal Navy will join NATO forces in intercepting refugees in the Mediterranean, Carmichael pressed for more action against criminal human traffickers at the point when they force refugees into taking “such desperate journeys”.

With the European Union under fire for its failure to put together a unified response to the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, UK Prime Minister David Cameron insisted yesterday that the UK would not take part in any resettlement scheme.

“We have an absolutely rock-solid opt-out from these things,” Cameron said, “so there is no prospect of Britain joining a common asylum process in Europe.”

On Tuesday, European leaders said they had reached the outlines of a possible deal to return thousands of refugees to Turkey, which is already sheltering over 2.5 million Syrian refugees.

German chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a “breakthrough” deal that would effectively see a “one in, one out” setup whereby one Syrian refugee would be resettled in Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. 

Carmichael is concerned over the risk of intercepted refugees being sent back to their homelands or other countries – which would contravene international refugee law.

“Closing down one route for refugees wanting to come to Europe will merely displace the people traffickers to go through other routes,” Carmichael said.

“The remit of the Navy’s operation with NATO is lacking in clarity, which is why I sought this urgent statement from the defence secretary. Most pressing and worrying is the British military’s possible involvement in returning desperate refugees back to lands where their lives may be in more danger.

“The defence secretary confirmed the presence of Navy ships in the Aegean Sea, but failed to acknowledge specifically whether intercepted refugees would be refused process of asylum in safer countries.

“Therefore, refugees fleeing the Middle East for Europe – who have already undergone terrifying journeys at the mercy of criminal traffickers – may face the prospect of transfer back to countries like Syria from Turkey. The British government should not be complicit in this act.

“Turkey has recently been attacked by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its handling of refugees and asylum seekers. Turkey and Greece are already under enormous pressure to process asylum applicants, which is why Europe should be working together to alleviate the strain that is being placed on them.

“Safe and legal refugee routes are vital to solve this problem and also combat the bases of wicked human traffickers who are forcing people into such dangerous journeys.”