Migrants attempting to reach Europe by sailing across the Mediterranean should be turned back, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.
In a press conference in Florence yesterday, Mr Johnson suggested that ships involved in Operation Sophia, which have been picking up migrants and ferrying them to Italy, should instead send them back to North Africa.
“I think personally they should be turned back as close to the shore as possible so they don’t reach the Italian mainland and there’s more of a deterrent effect,” he said.
Italy briefly tried the tactic, known as “push-back”, back in 2009 but it was forbidden by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012. However, the Foreign Secretary has now called for it to be tried again.
Speaking alongside his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni, Mr Johnson also appeared confused as to how successful Operation Sophia had been.
“I think I am right in saying we have turned back about 200,000 migrants, or helped about 200,000 migrants, sorry, saved, saved — thank you, the ambassador corrects me — saved 200,000 migrants and turned back 240 boats, and I do think that is the right approach.”
A spokesman for Operation Sophia later told The Times that it had picked up 26,117 migrants and captured 87 suspected people smugglers.
No boats had been turned back, the spokesman added, claiming returning migrants to their place of origin would be against international law.
In total, around 128,000 migrants have been picked up in the Mediterranean and taken to Italy. This was through a combination of the efforts of Operation Sophia, EU border agency Frontex, the Italian coastguard and navy, and non-governmental organisations.
Breitbart London reported yesterday how the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya has warned there are 235,000 more migrants waiting in Libya for a chance to cross into Europe.
Martin Kobler said the country’s instability was helping fuel the migrant exodus.
“Increased security is the most important issue at this time. If there is a strong and united army, not fragmented, the dangers of terrorism and human trafficking will end,” he said.