If 2014 were to be summarised by use of a political theme, I do not think anyone would be in any doubt that it was foreign affairs and the EU.
This year we have seen the rise of UKIP, the European Parliamentary Elections, the Scottish referendum and all the international relations issues it threw up, Ebola, ISIS, British Bill of Rights, the UK’s EU surcharge, and now the EU increasing its border controls.
As of this weekend, the EU will be putting in place a limited border control operation called Operation Triton, which will replace the current search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean.
The search and rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum has been in effect for over a year, created in response to the Lampedusa boat accident off the Italian coast. Since then the operation has rescued 150,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean, who may have drowned otherwise.
The changes come following a meeting with EU officials on how to control immigration levels to the EU from North Africa – over 182,000 migrants have arrived in the EU by sea this year alone, three times higher than the figure for the whole of last year.
It has been welcomed by countries such as the UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and even Iceland, who have all contributed equipment for the operation. The new Foreign Office minister for the House of Lords, Lady Anelay, argued in a written letter that the search and rescue operation created an “unintended ‘pull factor'”, which only encouraged people to take to the waters separating North Africa and Europe.
Nevertheless, human rights groups have lashed out at the proposals. British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, states that people fleeing from atrocities at home will still attempt to make the crossing, and are now more likely to perish due to the scrapping of Mare Nostrum.
Interestingly, this is not the first immigration story in recent weeks to have caused uproar.
Australia, notorious for its hardened approach to immigration, released a poster (pictured) that created a ripple of anger on social media, and in refugee activist groups.
According to the Nonprofit Refugee Action Coalition Sydney, most of the deaths around Australia are down to the country’s poor search and rescue services, “who have been told to prioritise stopping boats, not saving lives.” The poster is accompanied by a video of General Campbell, who warns against trusting smugglers who provide transport to Australia for immigrants.
This last point is one of the great problems with the whole situation; that of the smugglers. From what I have gleaned, the smugglers have other motives besides trafficking people around the globe. Often they are carrying drugs, and care little for the wellbeing of their human cargo.
Indeed, the smugglers also appear to take a lot of money for their “service”, often bleeding a family dry so that the latter may start another life in a better country. This, of course, raises concerns with human rights campaigners.
The EU’s decision is not what one would call timely. Egypt (one of the primary countries where migrants are coming from) has declared a state of emergency in the Sinai region. 33 Egyptian troops were killed in what is reported to be a terrorist attack in the area that borders with Gaza.
The Gaza Strip has featured in the news for quite some time, as Israeli and Palestinian forces have clashed with deadly consequences. The Islamic group in Palestine, Hamas, is said to have been behind the attack in Egypt, where people are now being evacuated, and a 500m buffer zone has been put in place along the border.
Forces will also be continuing with their long-term efforts to block tunnels on the border, which have been used by Hamas to smuggle weapons and terrorists into Gaza.
As the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues, there may be a chance that more people will choose to flee the country should they fear the fighting may spill over into Egypt. If that is the case, we may see greater numbers taking the boat trip to Europe.