Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson has described the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean as “a stain on the conscience of Europe.”
The party’s leader in Westminster was speaking during a debate in the House of Commons on international development when he said that “much more needs to be done” to help the “thousands and thousands of refugees” who have lost their lives making the journey to Europe.
Asking Mr Cameron if he agreed that the Royal Navy was making a “profound difference” to those fleeing Isis as well as those looking for jobs and education in wealthier EU countries, he said that the UK should offer “refuge and asylum to those who need it.”
But Mr Cameron, who has had to take a much stronger line on immigration since the rise of UKIP in the polls, disagreed with the left wing MP that the answer lay in allowing larger numbers of people to live in the country.
“We need to do two things to solve this crisis,” he replied. “First, we need a Government in Libya that we can work with, so that it is possible to return people to Africa and stop this criminal trade. Secondly, we need to break the link between getting on a boat and achieving residence in Europe. That is what needs to be done.”
Mr Robertson compared the flight of migrant from Africa and the Middle East to the plight of Jewish families in Germany during the 1930s. He said 80 years ago, the UK offered refuge and asylum to “those who were being pursued by the Nazis”.
“We all know about the Kindertransport and the children who were accepted and given refuge in the UK.”
And he said the behaviour of the government has led to an “appalling record” because Britain is “not prepared to co-operate with other European nations on accepting refugees who have been rescued in the Mediterranean.”
“Why does the Prime Minister think it is fair for Sweden, Germany and other countries to accept those refugees, while the UK turns its back on them?” he asked.
But Mr Cameron refuted Mr Robertson’s comparisons that the majority of people were running in danger for their lives – backed up by the numbers who do not stay in the first safe country they arrive in which could include journeying to Tunisia and not require a dangerous sea crossing organised by criminal gangs.
“Let us be clear: the vast majority of people who are setting off into the Mediterranean are not asylum seekers, but people seeking a better life,” he told MPs. ” They have been tricked and fooled by criminal gangs. Our role should be going after those criminal gangs, sorting out the situation in Libya, turning back the boats where we can and using our generous aid budget—this Government achieved 0.7%—to mend the countries from which these people are coming.”
UKIP migration spokesman Steven Woolfe said the SNP were “pro-EU loony lefties advocating immature and populist policies which are counter-productive.”
“Their proposal would only encourage more economic migrants to come across the Med, helping to enrich people smugglers and the ISIS terrorist weapon fund. What is needed is an Australian style processes which reduces the draw factor and stops more people drowning – that is real compassion.”