Today I moved my motion for members debate which you can read below along with my speech. The motion which achieved cross party support in the Scottish Parliament was welcomed by parties on all side of the chamber and the debate was excellent and supported by a number of organisations who supplied several briefing papers.
Presiding Officer, in moving this debate today can I first thank all those Members of this Parliament who signed my motion and made the debate possible.
Members will have received a copy of a publication from Amnesty International called – ‘Europe’s Sinking Shame – The Failure to Save Refugees and Migrants at Sea’ – This sets out the sheer scale of the human disaster taking place in the Mediterranean that has seen over 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 amongst men, women and children.
Back in October last year the Italian Ambassador to the UK 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 there was a clearer plan. To be honest with you, the truth is that we have been left quite alone to face this tragedy.
He talked of migrants drowning by the thousand in the Mediterranean Sea and he said 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 this issue a European priority and he stated that all political pressure is welcome to create awareness of the scale of the human tragedy taking place.
So today I bring forward this motion yes to raise awareness of this tragedy but also to make the case that this Parliament must do more to speak out and to use every bit of influence we can have to make the UK 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 men, women and children travelling to Europe from the poorest countries of Africa where poverty is endemic and where opportunity is limited. And there are many seeking protection and asylum who come from trouble spots like Syria, from which there is currently no legal and safe way to get to Europe.
And they need our help. We cannot say we do not know for Frontex, the European border protection agency, in Warsaw, in Europe follows every single boat filled with refugees and in the last year and a half we have been using drones and satellites to survey the borders. So European authorities have surveillance of people drowning down in the Mediterranean. We know people are dying.
I want to quote from Pope Frances who on the 19th of April after a further 600 men, women and children 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.”
He added, “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,”
And that is the purpose of 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 and social status are in danger.
We have to think of protecting people not just protecting borders, think about saving lives and not just saving money.
I believe we must consider for genuine refugees legal ways of reaching Europe. As The United Nations Refugee Agency, human rights organizations like Germany’s Pro Asylum and Human Rights Watch have suggested the European Union should create asylum procedures at the embassies of its member states in the same way Switzerland has done.
The Italian Navy’s Operation Mare Nostrum rescue mission, which protected hundreds of thousands of refugees from drowning, needs the funds to be fully up and running once again.
The European Union also needs to finally begin participating seriously in the United Nations Refugees Agency resettlement program. The United Nations 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, but Germany accepted 300. We must all do more.
The EU’s Dublin Regulation, which only allows refugees to apply for asylum in their country of arrival, is an issue and in crisis torn countries We should also look at whether the visa requirement for people from these conflict countries be temporarily lifted.
I do not say that these changes would stop all the loss of lives at sea but they could be significantly reduced and we could send out a message that just as when Europe too once had its own refugees fleeing Europe and needed the help of the international community, we Europeans in the international community are prepared to help now.
I move the motion and ask that we all remain focussed on achieving action from the UK and across Europe.
Motion S4M-12950: Alex Rowley, Cowdenbeath, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 16/04/2015
Thousands of Migrants Dying Attempting to Reach Europe Each Year
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.