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Leaders visit Mediterranean to show 'solidarity' with migrants

UN, EU and Italian leaders will board a navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea to display "solidarity" after a series of migrant tragedies. More than 750 migrants died off the coast of Libya almost two weeks ago.

The UN's Ban Ki-moon, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini – who is also a former Italian foreign minister – were due to board the Italian naval vessel San Giusto in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily's coast on Monday in a gesture of solidarity to the

thousands of migrants killed trying to reach Europe.

The mass drowning of at least 750 migrants off the coast of Libya on April 19 prompted EU leaders to hold an emergency summit last week, after which they announced

funding for the Triton border protection operation

with rescue capacity would be tripled.

The increase brings the funding to the level of Mare Nostrum, the Italian search and rescue operation which was wound down last year after the EU could not agree on sharing the cost.

The United Nations has previously criticized the EU's handling of the problem, with its High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, last week calling the approach of EU governments towards the flows of migrants "callous."

The UN's independent human rights experts on migrants, Francois Crepeau, and on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarainaro, also responded critically to the EU's announcements following an emergency summit on migration last week, saying the leaders "overwhelmingly" continued to focus on border security.

"Increasing repression of survival migration has not worked in the past and will not work now. Destroying boats is only a very short-sighted solution to combating [people] smuggling," they said in a UN press release.

Leaders from Britain and France are expected to demand a UN Security Council resolution to target boats in Libyan waters used to ferry migrants.

Mogherini warned it would be difficult to get this approved, particularly from Libya, which does not yet have a unified government.

A UN envoy is also currently involved in mediating peace talks between Libya's rival governments, in hopes of restoring law and order and eventually shutting down people smuggling operations in the country.

Ban is due to travel to the Vatican in Rome later in the day, to meet with Pope Francis on Tuesday.

Mogherini also has a number of appointments planned to address the ongoing crisis, including meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Wednesday.

se, an/bw (AFP, dpa, AP)

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