The UK home secretary has called for Europe to “get on with the job” of breaking the link between “economic migrants” making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and settling in Europe.
Arriving at the extraordinary European Union interior ministers refugee crisis meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, Theresa May confirmed that Britain would not be taking part in a further EU programme to relocate 120,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary. Interior ministers were hoping to find a way of settling the highly controversial distribution of the 120,000 across Europe during Tuesday’s meeting.
Instead, the home secretary said Britain would only take people direct from Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East and emphasised the need for wider European measures to “return those people who are illegally economic migrants and who have no right to be here”.
She made clear that she saw Britain’s role, at the crunch meeting being held on the eve of a refugee crisis summit of European prime ministers, as being to push for rigorous processing of those who have made it to Europe.
“We must ensure that people arriving at the Europe’s borders are being properly dealt with, properly fingerprinted so that decisions can be made and when they are illegal economic migrants, they can be returned,” May said.
Britain, which under the Lisbon Treaty can opt out of the EU refugee relocation programme, is the only member state that will not participate in some form or other. Both Ireland and Denmark, which also have opt-outs, have said they will nevertheless take some of the refugees from within Europe.
The home secretary said: “The UK will not be participating in the relocation scheme. We have announced that we will be taking more refugees direct from the Syrian refugee camps – we will be resettling those people in the UK over the next few years.
“That means we can help the most vulnerable people. It also means that fewer people will be trying to make that dangerous journey through into Europe which has sadly seen so many lives lost. We also need Europe to get on with the job of wider measures that need to be taken of ensuring that we are breaking the link for economic migrants between making this dangerous journey and settling in Europe.”
May’s remarks came as the International Organisation of Migration said that 473,887 men, women and children had arrived in Europe by sea so far in 2015. It added that at least 182,000, or just under 40% of them, were Syrians.
The British Refugee Council said the home secretary’s comments were “extremely disappointing”, adding that: “Britain can’t leave refugees to camp on Greek beaches. We must help protect refugees.”
The council said May’s emphasis on breaking the link between making it to Europe and settling in the continent “ignores the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ assessment that 84% of arrivals are from world’s top 10 refugee-producing countries”.