EU leaders forced to reconsider policy on migrant crisis

EU leaders forced to reconsider policy on migrant crisis
After the death Sunday of 700 migrants in the Mediterranean, Europe is under pressure to face down anti-immigrant bias and reinstate its 'seek and rescue' border programme.
3 min read
20 April, 2015
Aid groups have called for a "humanitarian corridor" to ensure safety of migrants [AFP/GETTY]

EU foreign and interior ministers will meet Monday to discuss the latest migrant disaster in the Mediterranean which may have cost 700 lives, an EU official said.

The foreign ministers had been due to discuss the situation in Libya, but the agenda of the meeting was changed after the loss of the ship, a European Council spokeswoman said.

Italy, which has borne the brunt of the latest exodus, said only 28 people survived the latest shipwreck off Libya.

"It seems we are looking at the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean," said Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

On Monday, Greek authorities said at least three people died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants from the Turkish shore ran aground off the eastern Aegean island of of Rhodes. The Greek news outlet Rodiaki posted a video apparently showing survivors clinging to debris that had washed up on the coast.

Anti migrants rhetoric

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Europe risked "damaging our credibility if we are not able to prevent these tragic situations which are happening every day."

The Italian "Mare Nostrum" rescue programme was canceled last year because of the cost and because some politicians said it encouraged migrants to depart by raising their hopes of being rescued.

French President Francois Hollande said the EU had to do more, telling Canal+ television that rescue and disaster prevention efforts needed "more boats, more over flights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking."

Sweden's Minister for Justice and migration Morgan Johansson called for an expansion of the EU's Triton border protection programme, the scheme that recently replaced a broader search and rescue mission run by Italy.

"It was an illusion to think that cutting off Mare Nostrum would prevent people from attempting this dangerous voyage," said the German government's representative for migration, refugees and integration, Aydan Ozoguz.

Aid groups have called for the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to ensure the safety of the migrants but in Italy there were also calls to stop the boats from leaving and even to destroy them.

In Italy, t
he leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, called for an immediate naval blockade of the coast of Libya while Daniela Santanche, a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said Italy's navy must "sink all the boats."

In Britain, a columnist for The Sun newspaper wrote that she would send "gunboats" to deal with the "plague" of migrants, whom she refered to as "cockroaches."

Libya's lawless state has left criminal gangs of smugglers free to send a stream of boats carrying desperate people from Africa and the Middle East.

The latest disaster comes after a week in which two other shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead.

Some 11,000 migrants have been rescued since the middle of last week and current trends suggest last year's total of 170,000 landing in Italy is likely to be exceeded in 2015.