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The European Union is receiving criticism from NGOs who say it is using the COVID-19 pandemic to stop migrants from coming ashore. The Ocean Viking which is anchored off the Porto Empedocle town in Sicily have been at sea for more than a week after multiple rescue missions from June 25 to 30. Italy has since announced it will transfer migrants to a quarantine ship after doctors reported migrants were suffering from psychological distress onboard the ship.
Speaking on France 24, International affairs editor Douglas Herbert said: “Europe, which already had no real policies on the solidarity of migrants, have been accused by a lot of the NGOs, these private rescue operations, of using COVID-19 for enforcing what they see as deadly migration policies.
“That is using COVID-19 as an excuse to keep borders closed and stop migrants from coming ashore.
“In this case, you had the Ocean Viking, they’ve been on limbo on the seas for a week.
“Why? Seven repeated attempts to try and get permission to offload these migrants on to dry land were rebuffed.
“What you had was what one doctor called enormous psychological distress building on the stress.
“Stress that lead to fights, to suicide attempts, two migrants who tried plunging into the seas were rescued by members of the charity organisation.”
His comments come as a former Border Force chief said the migrant crossings crisis is “a fire that we haven’t been able to put out” that may only get worse.
Numbers of refugees risking their lives to cross the dangerous waters of the English Channel have surged during the last 100 days.
Nearly 2,000 migrants are known to have reached UK shores since lockdown was announced on March 23, according to data gathered by the PA news agency.
The death-defying journey across the world’s busiest shipping lanes has been attempted again and again in all manner of small boats, from inflatable dinghies to kayaks.
This is despite Home Secretary Priti Patel’s vow in October last year that migrant crossings would be virtually eradicated by the spring.
Meanwhile, charities say the Government has a “moral duty and a legal obligation” to protect refugees and people seeking asylum.
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Speaking exclusively to PA, former head of UK Border Force Tony Smith CBE said migrant crossings are “lucrative business” for crime gangs.
He added: “The problem has been that we haven’t been able to stop them and the smuggling gangs have realised that it’s not as difficult to get across the Channel as they thought it would be.
“There’s a lot of people in France that really want to come over to the UK who are prepared to pay them.”
Mr Smith, who now works for border security consultancy Fortinus Global after leaving Border Force in 2013, said smugglers will be using UK news reports about successful migrant crossings as proof their methods are working.
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