Election 2015

Election 2015: Turn migrants boat back, says Farage

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Media captionUKIP leader Nigel Farage: "The numbers we are talking about (migrating to southern Europe) could literally be millions"

Migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe should be returned to where they came from, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said.

He told the BBC that boats should be turned back to deter migrants from attempting to make the journey.

And the UK should only accept "a few thousand" Christian refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean, he said.

His comments come after 800 migrants are thought to have died when boats sank off Libya at the weekend.

The UNHCR has described the tragedy as "the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean we have ever recorded".

Experts have warned that up to 30,000 migrants, including 2,500 children, could be killed in 2015 unless the crisis is tackled.

An emergency EU leaders' summit on the migrant issue will be held on Thursday.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Farage said that unless action was taken by southern European countries "millions" of migrants would arrive on European soil over the next couple of years.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Survivors of the weekend capsize arrived in Catania, Sicily, late on Monday

"The big message has to come from Italy, the big message has to come from Greece," he said, adding: "Unless you send a message that you're not going to unconditionally accept unlimited numbers of people, they will keep coming."

"That's not our decision but that is a decision that's got to be taken by those southern Mediterranean countries," he said.

The UKIP leader said migrants trying to reach Europe by boat "should be put on vessels that are seaworthy and taken back to where they came from".

He said there may be cases where people "genuinely need refugee status", adding, "if Britain has to give a helping hand and give, for example, some Christians refugee status, given that with Iraq and Libya there is almost nowhere for them to go, then fine".

"But," he continued, "Europe can't send a message that everybody that comes will be accepted. If it does then the numbers we're talking here could literally be millions".

'Cargo of death'

Asked how many refugees he would be willing for the UK to accept, Mr Farage replied: "I would suggest a few thousand, because we as a country can't take unlimited numbers of people."

He said Prime Minister David Cameron would be under "intense pressure" at Thursday's EU summit on the Mediterranean crisis to take "very big numbers, and I am afraid we simply can't do that".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A boat carrying dozens of immigrants ran aground off the coast of the Rhodes island, Greece on Monday
Image copyright Marina Militare via AFP
Image caption Italy's major search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, has been phased out

Mr Cameron has said the UK will contribute to search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, to help stop migrants becoming a "cargo of death".

London Mayor and Conservative parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson has suggested British special forces could be sent to Libya as part of European efforts to tackle human trafficking.

He told LBC radio action was required to "choke off the problem at source" to stop migrants being sent "to their deaths" on "unseaworthy vessels" travelling across the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU withdrew funding for Italy's "Mare Nostrum" search-and-rescue operation last year, replacing it with the smaller Operation Triton - a move which has drawn criticism, including from the United Nations.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for the rescue patrol operations to be restarted, and Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said it was a mistake to abandon Mare Nostrum.

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