Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds
From: Inside Story

Migrant rescue: All at Sea?

Italy winds down search and rescue operations as the European Union begins limited maritime border patrols.

Italy is scaling down its migrant rescue programme as the number of people trying to reach its shores soars.

Operation Mare Nostrum – or ‘Our Sea’ in Latin – was launched in November last year after more than 400 migrants died when their boats capsized off Italy’s southernmost island, Lampedusa.

Since then, it has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

In 2012, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea had dropped to 13,200, with 600 deaths.

Since Operation Mare Nostrum was launched, it has swelled to 139,000, with more than 3,100 losing their lives.

The route many migrants are taking is from North Africa to Italy – escaping wars in Iraq and Syria, poverty and unrest in the Horn of Africa and West Africa, and chaos in Libya and Egypt.

Reporting from Reggio Calabria in southern Italy, Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga said: ‘Many among those rescued in the past year knew there were warships out there looking for them.

“Now the fear is that if the operation suddenly ends, others who attempt the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean may be waiting for help that will never come.”

The European Union is beginning limited maritime border patrols on Saturday, to monitor migrant movements.

But Britain has said it does not support future search and rescue operations.

In a statement, Foreign Office Minister Joyce Anelay said: ‘We understand that by withdrawing this rescue cover we will be leaving innocent children, women and men to drown who we would otherwise have saved.’

She added that but when word got round, “they will think twice about making the journey. And so eventually, over time, more lives will be saved”.

So who is taking responsibility for migrants seeking sanctuary from the chaos and carnage in their homeland?

And does providing a safety net encourage others to risk their lives trying to get to Europe?

Presenter: Mike Hanna


Leonard Doyle – Spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration.

Ben Ward – Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Europe.

Ewa Moncure – Spokeswoman for Frontex, the European Union’s border control agency.