Monday 22 January 2018

Europe should back action to protect migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants are waiting to board a cruise ship to be transferred to a holding camp in Sicily Credit: Francesco Malavolta
Migrants are waiting to board a cruise ship to be transferred to a holding camp in Sicily Credit: Francesco Malavolta

Robin Emmott

Europe should support action to protect migrants in the Mediterranean after one of the worst migrant boat disasters happened this weekend, said European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

As many as 700 people are feared dead after a fishing boat packed with migrants capsized off the Libyan coast overnight.

"We have said too many times 'never again'. Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay," Mogherini, an Italian, said in a statement.

Read More: Up to 700 feared dead as boat capsizes off Libya - reports

Many EU governments are reluctant to fund rescue operations in the Mediterranean for fear of encouraging more people to make the crossing in search of a better life in Europe.

In indirect criticism of northern European Union countries that have so far left rescue operations to southern states such as Italy, Mogherini said: "We need to save human lives all together, as all together we need to protect our borders and to fight the trafficking of human beings."

EU foreign ministers will discuss the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg, Mogherini said.

Read More: Muslim migrants threw nine Christian refugees into sea on way to Italy

The European Commission, the EU executive, has warned that setting up an EU search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean will take time.

But the Commission said in a statement on Sunday that the situation could no longer be ignored.

Read More: Gangs tip off Italians about migrant tide sailing their way

The Commission said it was consulting with EU governments, European agencies and international organisations to draw up a new migration strategy in May.

Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters on Thursday: "We almost brace ourselves in the knowledge that it will only get worse in the weeks and months to come, notably as the weather improves and the instability and conflict in our neighbourhood endure."

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