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EU 'must tackle roots of crisis'

Published 21/06/2015

Migrants in the safety of HMS Bulwark's dock after their rescue in the Mediterranean
Migrants in the safety of HMS Bulwark's dock after their rescue in the Mediterranean

The EU must go beyond dealing with the "symptoms" of the migrant crisis and tackle its roots in Africa, the defence secretary has warned.

Michael Fallon said the UK's international aid budget was being used to help "stabilise" countries which were seeing large numbers departing for Europe.

But speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Fallon said a much more "comprehensive" approach was needed across the continent.

"At the moment we are simply dealing with the symptoms of the problem, helping to rescue people in the Mediterranean," he said.

"There has got to be a much more comprehensive approach tackling the problem much further back."

Britain has not signed up to controversial proposals from the European Commission to redistribute tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in Italy and Greece to other countries.

Mr Fallon indicated he wanted to see more intelligence sharing and action to address the problems driving people out of their own countries.

"It is a European problem now, perhaps half a million people trying to cross this year. We know already the traffickers are ringing the Italian coastguard and telling them when the boats are setting off," he said.

"We can use our overseas aid budget, and this is where it should be used, to help stabilise some of these countries and discourage this kind of mass migration from them.

"Well focused aid should be used to help stabilise these countries to help stop conflict breaking out."

Asked whether the EU could consider a naval blockade of the northern coast of Africa, the Cabinet minister replied: "That is a matter for Europe to look to see.. It is a very long coast.

"That is a difficult operation. I think what is more important is to pool the intelligence we have to go much further back in Africa."

Mr Fallon added: "We have to break the link between rescuing people from the Mediterranean and settlement, because they will keep coming if they think they are going to be settled."

He said HMS Bulwark, which has been helping in the search-and-rescue missions since April. had picked up migrants from 20 different countries.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will join EU counterparts in Luxembourg tomorrow to discuss a European naval operation in the Mediterranean to combat people smuggling.

Britain is deploying survey vessel HMS Enterprise to the region to take over from HMS Bulwark early next month. A British Merlin helicopter will continue taking part in operations.

GCHQ, the UK's listening post in Cheltenham, is reportedly being deployed for the first time to identify criminal gangs smuggling migrants to the Libyan coast.

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