6 May 2015

S4M-12950 Europe (Rescue of Migrants)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Our next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12950, in the name of Alex Rowley, on thousands of migrants dying attempting to reach Europe each year.

Motion debated,

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.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

This is one of the occasions in the hubbub of political debate and disagreement that shows that, actually, all of us politicians here are more united by issues than we are divided by them. I do not expect to hear a contrarian voice on this subject. In the past 24 hours, Al Jazeera has reported that six operations have rescued 600 migrants. The operations mainly involved Italy, but they also involved Malta, which is a very small jurisdiction that has a population similar to Edinburgh’s. I join others in congratulating Alex Rowley on bringing the topic for debate, which is timely, appropriate and necessary.

In its briefing, Amnesty International tells us that

“3.9 million refugees are registered in Syria’s neighbouring countries and Egypt.”

However, since 2013, the EU has offered 40,000 places—one would barely notice that anyone had been removed from those 3.9 million. I say “Well done” to Germany, which provided 30,000 of those places.

Alex Rowley’s motion focuses on the mare nostrum rescue mission, which has been stopped, and its replacement. Amnesty has provided us with a graphic illustration of how our support has reduced. We used to have six helicopters; we now have one. We used to spend £9.5 million; we now spend less than £3 million. Let us get an idea of the scale of that: the amount of money that is being spent on helping people who are escaping from threat, poverty and hunger is less than one tenth of what we spend on providing the free bus pass in Scotland. That is how tiny the amount of money that is being spent to support people in personal extremity is.

Since the support for what is happening in the Mediterranean has reduced and retreated closer to Italy, meaning that help is many times further away from Libya, we have seen a huge increase in the number of casualties that are resulting from the problem.

The right kinds of things are being said. The European Council’s Donald Tusk said that saving lives of innocent people is

“the number one priority for us”,

but when you match words to the deeds it is not all that obvious that we are going—

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will.

Neil Findlay: Does Stewart Stevenson agree that if the EU spent as much time and effort on protecting and enhancing the lives of people across the globe as it does on protecting its own economic interests we would be in a much better place and would not see the catastrophes that we are seeing?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not always agree with Neil Findlay, but he captured the essence of the issue extremely well in that intervention.

I will stick within the strict four minutes that I have been allocated and sum up. In 1947, the Labour Government passed an act to support the Poles, so we know that there is good will among the members to my left. We have also heard good will from Jamie McGrigor on the right. The bottom line is that this must not be a borders issue. It is about common decency and humanity. I support every word of Alex Rowley’s motion.


Stewart Stevenson
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