The deaths of shipwrecked African migrants off the Italian coast appear to have goaded European policymakers into action. Meetings are being held but it is uncertain whether they presage change in immigration policy.
Leaders of the 28-nation European Union (EU) are set to meet in Brussels on Thursday (23.04.2015) for an emergency summit on the Mediterranean migration crisis.
About 800 refugees perished off the coast of Italy over the weekend when their boat capsized in what is thought to be the worst sea migration disaster of modern times.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said the refugees were from Eritrea, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia as well as Syria.
The issue was discussed at a meeting between officials from the European Commission and the African Union (AU) in Brussels on Wednesday. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, head of the AU Commission, said they had identified three areas in which the two continents wished to work together. They were immigration, how to deal with traffickers and the issues on the ground in the countries of origin.
That third cluster of issues includes unemployment. "Industrialization in Africa would give us the opportunity to create more jobs for the younger people to be employed," Dlamini Zuma, flanked by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncke, told the media in Brussels. "We are a youthful continent and we are going to need more and more jobs," she stressed.
Military intervention controversial
Meanwhile Italy has called on fellow EU member countries to back tangible steps to deal with the crisis.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi urged the European Union to swiftly craft long-range,
comprehensive policy on the migrants.
"When a person has to risk his life because he needs to escape from a situation where they are chopping off the heads of those near him, you cannot discourage departures with a generic statement. "You can do it by putting the UNHCR in Niger, Sudan" and elsewhere in Africa, he said.
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Sky TG24 TC "we know where the [people] smugglers keep their boats, where they gather. The plans for military intervention are there."
She said Italy would be ready to take the helm of any military intervention against the traffickers - if asked - as long as it was carried out as an international mission. "We're the closest country to Libya," she said.
But some analysts see any attempt to tackle the problem militarily as doomed to fail.
"This problem is totally unsolvable with military means," Alain Coldefy, a retired French admiral, told AFP news agency.
"Once these boats loaded with migrants have left Libyan waters, we can only apply international rules, which means rescuing people," he said.
Italy has saved some 200,000 migrant lives since the start of 2014. But it has phased out its dedicated maritime search and rescue operation called Mare Nostrum, or Our Sea, making way for a European Union border control mission, Triton.
Triton has been criticized because it has fewer resources and a more limited role than Mare Nostrum. One option on the table of Thursday's EU summit is the doubling of Triton's budget.