Citing a new level of awareness of the plight of thousands of sea-faring migrants trying to reach Europe, the EU bas outlined a series of responses to curb the illegal smuggling trade, and save lives.
The European Union says it will double search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, destroy boats and vessels known to be used to smuggle desperate migrants from North Africa to Italy, and pursue and break up the human trafficking rings.
The EU was reacting to a growing humanitarian crisis unfolding as African, Arab and Middle Eastern migrants increasingly travel choppy waters to reach Europe’s southern most ports, such as Lampedusa, Italy.
On Sunday, there were reports that at least 800 of these migrants had perished in the Mediterranean when their unstable vessels capsized.
At least three people died in another sea disaster on Monday when a boat carrying some 200 migrants capsized off the coast of Rhodes, Greece.
Human rights groups had previously criticized the EU for a lackluster approach to the growing phenomenon; in recent months, Europe – specifically Italy – had scaled back its response measures.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, acknowledged on Monday Europe’s slow response to the crisis.
Announcing the new response measures, Mogherini said that the problem of illegal migration across the Mediterranean was not only a challenge for Italy and Greece – two of the most desired trafficking destinations – but for the entire continent.
“We need to act, to act fast and act united,” she said. “This is not just a call for some but a response from all.”
“The main issue here is to build together a common sense of European responsibility on what is happening in the Mediterranean, knowing that there is no easy solution, no magic solution, but there is a responsibility that we have to exercise together, as Europeans, in consistent and coherent way.”
She indicated that the EU would use diplomatic tools as well to deal with the crisis.
A problem for years
Italian authorities have for years called on the EU for support and dealing with the influx of refugees.
Brussels had urged more pan-European patrol operations in the region, but these were designed to protect European waters and did not focus on search and rescue.
The plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean first came into focus in October 2013 when a boat carrying Eritrean refugees was shipwrecked short of Lampedusa, with at least 360 people drowning.
Italy shortly after launched Operation Mare Nostrum, pouring more resources into search and rescue operations to avert a similar crisis, but continued to call for a comprehensive pan-European initiative. By the end of 2014, Mare Nostrum had wound down and scaled back.
Italian authorities fear that ongoing conflict in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere continue to push more desperate families to make the trek.
On Tuesday, Italian authorities arrested the captain and first mate of the vessel which capsized killing 800 on Sunday. They were among only 28 survivors.
The BRICS POST with inputs from Agencies