Interior and foreign ministers from the European Union have convened in Luxembourg for a meeting on migrant boats in the Mediterranean. This follows a string of accidents involving overcrowded vessels.
European foreign and interior ministers held a somber minute's silence in Luxembourg on Monday for hundreds of victims feared dead in the Mediterranean. They gathered amid news of multiple vessels sending distress calls.
EU officials on Monday urged ministers from the member states to agree to comprehensive changes to the bloc's policies dealing with refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. Following a weekend shipwreck in which as many as 900 people are feared dead, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz both urged ministers to find a way to stop the deaths at sea.
"We have said too many times 'never again'," Mogherini said in a statement before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. "Now is the time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay. What happened [on Sunday] off the coast of Italy, what happens every day at the southern border of Europe, is unacceptable for a Union that was built on the principles of solidarity, respect for human rights and dignity for all."
Tusk calls Thursday summit
As Monday's meeting kicked off in Luxembourg, European Council President Donald Tusk also announced an emergency summit devoted to the issue.
Mogherini said that she had prepared a set of proposals for war-torn Libya ahead of Monday's meeting, with the majority of migrants setting sail from the northern African country.
"We need to continue to work on the root causes of migration and most of all on the instability of an area that is broader and broader, from Iraq to Libya. Every single day, we have the duty to save human lives, sharing among all the 28 [member states] this duty and a responsibility that for too long has been left only to the southern countries."
The vast majority of refugees arrive in countries like Greece and Italy - as these destinations offer the shortest crossings. EU rules currently demand that refugees seek asylum in the countries where they arrive, meaning the burden is by no means evenly shared across the Union. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for more support from European partners on Sunday.
Schulz: 'How many more must drown?'
European Parliament President Martin Schulz also urged EU members to find a common approach to stop the deaths at sea.
"Words of grief are not enough. We cannot continue like this," Schulz said. "Every day we sit idly by and watch how people put themselves into the hands of criminal and inhumane traffickers and die on their way to Europe, we burden ourselves with more blame."
Schulz said it was "more than time to finally change our refugee and migration policies," also saying that the creation of a national unity government in Libya was of "crucial importance" to stemming the tide. The German Social Democrat lamented inaction thus far, saying: "It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions."
msh/rc (AP, dpa)