Some NGOs encouraging people-smugglers, claims Varadkar

EU summit resolves to increase aid to Africa and consider refugee reception centres

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “Some of these NGOs are doing great work, some aren’t up to much good, quite frankly.”  Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “Some of these NGOs are doing great work, some aren’t up to much good, quite frankly.” Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said some organisations rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean “aren’t up to much good”, as EU leaders agreed to toughen border security and explore the possibility of refugee reception centres in both Europe and North Africa.

Mr Varadkar stressed that some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Mediterranean were saving the lives of people who would otherwise drown. However, he was sharply critical of others for encouraging people-smugglers.

“There are some NGOs that even on Twitter in the last couple of days are advertising their position, saying ‘we are here to pick people up.’ One boat for example – the captain is in prison – was false registered.

“Some of these NGOs are doing great work, some aren’t up to much good, quite frankly,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The smugglers who are making millions of euro from very vulnerable people, from migrants, know full well they can put migrants in dinghies, in crafts that are not seaworthy, knowing that NGOs will come along and pick them up. That is therefore a pull factor.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the end of a two-day summit of European leaders in Brussels which agreed – after a long hold-out from the new anti-immigrant Italian government on Thursday night/Friday morning threatened to derail the meeting – to introduce new measures to combat the flow of migrants to Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Refugee status

The summit resolved to increase EU aid to Africa and to explore the possibility of setting up centres where migrants could be assessed to see if they qualify for refugee status.

The move comes amid rising concerns about migrants in Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel is under fire on the issue. Mr Varadkar said the EU needed to “respond to the genuine fears of European citizens” about immigration.

He said the population of Africa was projected to rise to 2.5 billion people by 2020, which meant there were “hundreds of millions of people potentially migrating to Europe if we don’t do something to improve security, living conditions, economic opportunities, democracy and the rule of law in Africa.”

Mr Varadkar said any “disembarkation centres” would be monitored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration “to make sure that human rights are upheld and international law is upheld”.

Hungarian PM

The proposal, he said, “requires further exploration over the months ahead”.

Asked if the statements of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban were “racist” or “xenophobic”, Mr Varadkar said “I’m not sure I’d go so far as using those terms.”

However, he said: “I don’t agree with Victor Orban’s views on immigration; I don’t agree with him on lots of things but you have to respect the fact that other countries come for a different perspective and we’ve seen public opinion change.”

“Viktor’s view is that he wants Hungary to stay Hungarian – he often talks about the fact that in western Europe we have a different set of thoughts and a different set of values where it’s all about multiculturalism and integration.

“But Hungary doesn’t want to make those decisions. Hungary doesn’t need migrants,” he said. “Western European countries and northern European countries need migration. We see it differently in western Europe.”