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An early start to the day Europe could stop children drowning

Balloons outside Parliament representing the 2.500 children who could die if EU leaders do not agree to restart rescue operations today.
Balloons outside the Houses of Parliament this morning representing the 2.500 children who could die if EU leaders do not agree to restart rescue operations today.

At the sun came up over London this morning at 5.50am, I was standing outside the Houses of Parliament.

I wasn’t alone: I was joined by a group of dedicated colleagues, some of whom had already been there for hours, tying 2,500 white helium balloons to the ground.

We were there to highlight that today’s a crunch day for Europe’s leaders and for the thousands of children endangered by their heartless policy when they cross the Mediterranean in search of safety.

The need to act

Each balloon represented the life of a child – a life that could be lost in this year if EU presidents and prime ministers don’t agree to scale search-and-rescue operations up to at least 2014 levels at their summit in Brussels today.

When the EU took the shameful decision last November to significantly scale back its search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, they suggested it would act as a deterrent to migrants considering the trip.

They were wrong – and the consequences have been tragic.

In the last ten days, thousands of people, including hundreds of children, have died at sea. We’ve been calling on EU leaders to act decisively to stop more deaths from happening.

When thousands of lives are at stake, half measures don’t cut it. When they meet today, they must:

1. Restart the Rescue.

Commit to establishing and deploying a search-and-rescue mission that exceeds the size and capability of the Mare Nostrum mission that was within 48 hours.

2. Respond to the humanitarian crisis.

The EU must commit to taking joint political and financial responsibility for the search-and-rescue mission itself and also for the wider response to the immediate humanitarian crisis.

3. Agree to a joint EU approach to prioritising care and protection of child migrants.

This should include greater support for child-friendly reception centres, accelerated processing of asylum applications of children and their families and specific measures to protect unaccompanied children, including shelter, food, clothing as well as emotional and legal support.

4. Agree to a long-term approach

A review of current restrictive migration and asylum policies that are a barrier to safer migration routes and which force people to resort to illegal traffickers.

Aid for fragile and conflict-affected countries and increased support for nations with the highest burden of refugees; and the increased prosecution of traffickers in human beings.

Across the UK, tens of thousands of ordinary people have signed our petition for a significant scale-up of search-and-rescue to save many thousands of lives this summer.

Children first, politics second

Mums and dads at the school gate tell me that they have seen the terrible pictures of the latest tragedies in the Mediterranean and that this simply has to stop.

If European leaders wanted they could have a full scale search-and-rescue operation in place within 48 hours. It’s entirely in their hands today. They must put the lives of children before politics.

While I type I look at one of the white balloons that I have brought back from Parliament Square and think of my own children safe at home. May there not be another child that drowns before our leaders act today.

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