Migrant crisis: UK to send ships to tackle people smugglers – BBC News

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RFA Mounts BayImage copyright

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RFA Mounts Bay will join naval vessels from Germany, Canada, Turkey and Greece

The UK will provide “vital military assets” to help a Nato mission tackling people smugglers in the Aegean Sea, David Cameron has said.

The PM announced the amphibious landing ship RFA Mounts Bay would be sent ahead of an emergency summit in Brussels.

The ship, which carries a Wildcat helicopter, will be joined by two cutter boats and a civilian vessel.

More than a million migrants entered the EU illegally by boat travelling mainly from Turkey to Greece last year.

RFA Mounts Bay and two Border Force patrol boats, known as cutters, will join naval vessels from Germany, Canada, Turkey and Greece as part of Nato’s first intervention in the migrant crisis.

The vessels will identify smugglers taking migrants to Greece and pass the information to the Turkish coastguard so they can intercept these boats.

RFA Mounts Bay would begin the operation in the “coming days”, the cutter Protector was on its way to the region and a further cutter was expected to join them later this month, the government said.

There is one Border Force cutter already in the Aegean with the UK’s civilian vessel VOS Grace.

‘Desperate flow’

Mr Cameron said the Nato mission was important as it aimed to “break the business model of the criminal smugglers” and “stop the desperate flow of people crammed into makeshift vessels”.

“It’s an opportunity to stop the smugglers and send out a clear message to migrants contemplating journeys to Europe that they will be turned back,” he said.

On his arrival at the EU summit for talks on the crisis, Mr Cameron said the UK’s opt-out from the Schengen agreement meant there was “no prospect” of Britain joining any new EU asylum system.

“Even outside the EU, we’d be affected by a migration crisis like this,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, we maintain our borders in our own way of doing things, because we have the best of both worlds.”

The Royal Navy already has HMS Enterprise deployed in the Mediterranean with two UK Border Force cutters as part of the EU Naval Force Operation countering migrant smugglers.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said RFA Mounts Bay would be part of a mission to take migrants back to Turkey, rather than the EU, and to try to uncover smuggling routes.

He also accused Russia of deliberately fuelling the refugee crisis by bombing Syrian civilians in order to force them to flee towards Europe.

Mr Fallon said he agreed with the comments made by Nato’s top commander in Europe, Gen Philip Breedlove, who accused Russia last week of “weaponising” the migrant crisis in order to destabilise Europe and “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve”.

“The bombing that they [Russia] have carried out in Syria seems designed to push the Syrian civilian population toward the Turkish border and then on from Turkey into Greece,” he said.

“That is what the bombing campaign appears to have been aimed at.”

About RFA Mounts Bay

  • RFA Mounts Bay is part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a civilian-manned organisation which provides logistical and operational support for tasks undertaken by the Royal Navy, including counter-piracy measures and humanitarian and disaster relief
  • The ship is a 16,000-tonne vessel with a standard crew of 356, top speed of 18 knots (21 mph) and range of 8,000 nautical miles. The range is the total distance it is capable of covering without taking on fresh fuel
  • It is an amphibious ship with the capability of launching landing craft and amphibious vehicles
  • The Wildcat helicopter the ship carries is from 825 Naval Air Squadron

There has been repeated criticism by the UK and US governments of Russian air strikes that they have been targeted on moderate Syrian forces and civilians rather than the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.

A temporary ceasefire in Syria was agreed last week, which Western leaders hope may ease the flow of refugees to Europe.

In the run-up to the ceasefire Russia was accused of deliberately targeting hospitals and civilian infrastructure.

Russia has insisted that IS is the main target of its air strikes.

The EU has pledged €3bn (£2.3bn; $3.3bn) to Turkey in return for housing migrants and stemming the flow.

Some 13,000 are stranded on Greece’s border with Macedonia as European states seek to restrict entry.

Migrant crisis: UK to send ships to tackle people smugglers – BBC News