23 Mar 2017, 02 mins ago

The participation of the United Kingdom in the European-wide Operation Mos Maiorum from 13 to 26 October 2014 will have gone largely unnoticed by the majority of the general public. Ignored by most of the mainstream media across the EU, Mos Maiorum was one of the first major acts of the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The operation was announced on 10 July 2014, less than two weeks into the Italian Presidency. Led by the Italian Ministry of Interior Affairs and conducted in cooperation with Frontex, Europol and the national authorities of Schengen Member States throughout Europe, the operation sought to trace and arrest irregular and undocumented migrants and identify their support networks and methods of entry to the EU in a two week coordinated ‘crackdown’. The results of the operation were to be circulated throughout the Member States.

According to official sources, the operation was instigated in a bid to obtain clear and coherent information about the numbers of irregular migrants across the EU. The operation was intended to be kept out of the media spotlight, however, following leaks of information which came to light online this summer, alerts were circulated amongst migrant communities warning irregular migrants to stay out of public places for the two weeks of the operation. The results of the operation are unknown at this time but leaked official documents indicate that the results were due to be circulated to Member States by mid-December 2014.

The day after this operation concluded, on 27 October 2014, the UK government announced that it is going to cut its support for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean These operations are aimed at preventing tragedies such as those at Lampedusa in 2013 in which hundreds of migrants drowned attempting the crossing to Europe. The government claims that very existence of these search and rescue missions, “encourages illegal migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”. This controversial stance by the government has polarized opinion in the UK and has led to wide scale criticism from refugee and human rights organizations who fear that this will lead to more mass migrant deaths on the doorstep of the EU. In the past 12 months an estimated 150,000 people have been rescued from the Mediterranean.

With the number of displaced people reaching levels not seen since the aftermath of World War Two, it is clear that immigration, asylum and irregular migration will continue to be a major issue for governments across the EU. Nationally, this feeds into the ongoing debate on immigration and the UK’s relationship with the EU, which is becoming a defining issue for parties ahead of the forthcoming general election in 2015.