Delegates mourned the terrible tragedy of the 950 migrants drowned as their ship capsized off the coast of Libya just before the start of the Congress and gave overwhelming support to an emergency motion condemning the trade of people trafficking but also the reduction in search and rescue operations which is having a dramatic consequence on loss of life.
The STUC will campaign for an increase in the number of rescue boats in the Mediterranean and will use its influence to encourage a more humane immigration policy and to encourage the UK Government to provide safe haven for more refugees, especially those from conflict zones.
Moving the motion on behalf of the General Council, UNISON Scottish Secretary, Mike Kirby, clearly shocked by the events of the previous weekend, told delegates that the situation in the Mediterranean “where they are dragging bodies out of the sea, day after day, thousands of innocent people dead, simply beggars belief.”
He condemned the replacement by a smaller European operation, of the search and rescue vessels run by the Italian government that were previously saving 100,000 lives a year.
“It is difficult to put into words the degree to which this situation is unacceptable,” slammed Mike. “It is to the eternal shame of the UK Government that they do not support the return to the full search and rescue function. A position that is indefensible in its inhumanity.”
He called for the search and rescue operation to be reinstated as a matter of urgency, to “try to prevent the needless deaths of men, women and children on Europe’s doorstep.”
“We must also seek to change the approach of the UK to immigration, creating a better more humane system that recognises our responsibilities in the world,” said Mike, adding that the UK is not doing enough to provide refuge to people who are displaced by conflict.
“In Syria, alone, close to four million refugees have fled since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. This is the largest refugee population currently under the care of the UN’s refugee agency, but to date the UK has only provided resettlement places for 143 Syrian refugees.
“This lack of action gives sucour to traffickers seeking to exploit people in desperate situations in pursuit of profit. We cannot allow these people to exploit our Government’s inaction.”
He added, however, that we must go even further than this and raise awareness of the combination of factors that cause people to turn to traffickers in the first place.