The UN refugee agency has said that a record 165,000 people have tried to sail across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year. Another refugee boat sank off Libya on Thursday as the EU urged members to do more.
The UNHCR on Thursday called the increase in attempted migration to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean "alarming." The report said that 165,000 people had tried to make the crossing so far this year, compared to around 60,000 in all of 2013.
"We are failing to learn the lessons of the terrible events of last October," the UNHCR's Antonio Guterres said on Thursday, referring to the shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa, where at least 366 people were killed on October 3, 2013. "If Europe fails in these efforts, many more lives will continue to be lost."
The UN figures estimated that 90,000 people had tried to make the crossing in July, August and September alone - with 2,200 of them dying at sea.
Departing Malmstroem in fresh appeal
The EU's commissioner for the interior and border protection, Cecilia Malmstroem, on Thursday urged member states to do more to prevent such deaths, calling the current inaction among European countries "a disgrace."
"Some countries only offer protection to a handful of people each year. And that's while the world around us is in flames," Malmstroem, who is set to hand over her post and become commissioner for trade under Jean-Claude Juncker's new commission, said in Brussels.
Malmstroem has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction both with EU members' willingness to accept asylum seekers and their contributions to Italy's "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea) mission in the Mediterannean, often indicating that neither decision lies within Brussels' control. Malmstroem and the EU are seeking an EU-wide mission to replace the Italian operation, but can only deliver this if member states agree to help.
According the EU's statistics office Eurostat, EU member Estonia granted 10 people asylum at the first request in 2013. Croatia and Latvia approved 25 asylum applications, while Slovenia cleared 35 and Lithuania allowed 55.
Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa has prompted thousands to try to sail north to Europe in recent years; with the unrest raging in Libya a major contributor. On Thursday, a boat carrying refugees sank off the Libyan coast. State news agency LANA reported, citing the coastguard, that at least 10 bodies had been recovered - with between 80 and 90 survivors rescued. Eyewitnesses estimated that around 180 passengers were on board when the boat sank.
msh/sb (AP, dpa, epd, KNA)