Latvia sends technical aid to help stem migration flood

Member states of the European Union will relieve Italy’s Mare Nostrum Mediterranean rescue program Saturday by launching the joint maritime patrol Operation Triton, EU immigration officials announced Thursday. A number of member-states, among them Latvia, are contributing voluntarily to the mission.

The Latvian Border Guard Service will take part by providing technical equipment, though no personnel will be sent. However the exact nature of the contribution will only be made known to the public after the operation is complete, reported Latvian Radio Friday.

Conducted by the EU border agency Frontex, Operation Triton will involve six ships, two airplanes and a helicopter to monitor for illegal migrants fleeing the troubled lands of the Middle East and North Africa for perceived better prospects in Europe.

Prompted by two boat disasters in which hundreds of migrants perished at sea, Italy has been conducting the Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’) emergency rescue program on its own for a year now.

In the twelve months since it began, Mare Nostrum has saved about 150,000 migrants altogether from their treacherous flight attempts.

Triton will be based at Lampedusa, the tiny island at Italy’s furthest southern point targeted by migrants as the closest European soil on which to land, as well as at Porto Empedocle on the island of Sicily. Patrols will keep an eye on the Strait of Sicily and the Calabrian coast, remaining within 30 miles of Italian shores. The operation’s budget for 2014 totals around €5m.

Rescue operations will stray from these waters closer to the Libyan coast only if necessary, something the Mare Nostrum mission never undertook.

In an official statement, EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström explained that “so many desperate people are trying to cross the Mediterranean, fleeing conflict and war. The EU and its Member States need to respond and take action to save lives… The Mediterranean is a European sea and a European responsibility.

“With its Mare Nostrum operation, Italy has done a formidable job in assisting thousands upon thousands of refugees who have risked their lives by trying to cross the Mediterranean in rickety vessels.

“It is vital that EU states now fully implement the Common European Asylum System, and that a serious effort will be made to establish a truly European program for the resettlement of refugees. The challenges that the EU is facing requires all Member States to take responsibility, and offer protection to those in need," Commissioner Malmström urged.

Despite assurances that Operation Triton is not intended to sweep the sea to find and rescue these forsaken refugees, the mission has not escaped public controversy. Thus Great Britain has declined to participate in the operation, citing its potential to encourage more migrants to try to reach European shores in the knowledge that rescue efforts would be conducted, causing the flows of boat-people and more of their tragic drownings at sea to continue.

Greens MEP Michele Rivasi from France also criticized the operation, telling LR that “the real problem is that the EU agency (Frontex) that controls the borders is playing no role in saving the immigrants!”

“The situation is extraordinary,” she exclaimed. “The Mediterranean is turning into a watery graveyard. Must we as individuals, as privileged people at the European level accept this as normal? No!”

Kashetu Kyenge, Italy’s MEP from the Socialists and Democrats Alliance also told LR that the solution must come at the EU level. “This is no solution, we need a political solution! For years now the EU has put all its attention towards its bureaucracy, but we don’t need that to solve this problem. We need a united European asylum and immigration policy as well as an overarching strong foreign policy!” she said.

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