Italian navy migrants
Boats packed with desperate migrants are making their way across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. Twitter/Italian Navy

Since the beginning of 2015 alone, over 1,500 migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after the boats on which they were being smuggled sank. Many were children.

They come from across the troubled corners of the world, from Syria to Mali to Bangladesh, fleeing war, poverty, disease, torture, all in search of a better life for themselves and their families. They come, despite the risk to their lives, out of a desperation unknown to most Westerners.

But in October 2014, Italy ended proactive search and rescue missions under the £9m (€12.5m, $13.4m) a month Mare Nostrum programme because it was not financially sustainable without support from the EU.

Italy rescued migrant boats making the treacherous and often deadly journey across the Mediterranean, which are run by North African people smugglers working out of the failed state of Libya.

It was replaced by a "border protection" operation named Triton and managed by Frontex, the EU border agency, with less funding than Mare Nostrum. The UK will only offer technical assistance for EU border patrols in a 30-mile zone off the European coastline, not money to extend it so it can conduct the same role as Mare Nostrum across the whole Mediterranean.

Britain's argument, and that of other governments such as Germany which take a similar position, is that proactive search and rescue missions encourage migrants to take the risk, therefore by stopping the searches, fewer will be inclined to take the risk and die in the process.

As the tide of migrants swells in the waters around Europe, with more not fewer taking the risk, the EU is coming under increasing pressure from NGOs to reinstate its proactive humanitarian search and rescue missions in order to prevent the loss of more lives.

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