The EU has unveiled a 10-point plan to counter the rising numbers of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. As well as fighting trafficking networks, officials said they would share rescue and resettlement duties.
EU foreign and interior ministers met on Monday, less than 48 hours after a vessel capsized with as many as 900 people on board, finally agreeing on a 10-point plan.
Referring to previous pledges to collectively help southern nations such as Greece and Italy deal with the problem, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed hope that the plan would help to stop the growing number of deaths at sea.
She said there had been agreement on the three main areas of action, including fighting trafficking networks. The proposals, to be discussed at a meeting of leaders later this week, would also strengthen member states' duties when it comes to rescue operations and share the responsibility of resettling the migrants.
"I hope that today is the turning point in the European conscience ... not to go back to promises without actions," Mogherini said. "We have said too many times in the past 'never again'."
The EU's Mediterranean patrols have come under particular criticism, with fewer resources given over to operations since the suspension of Italy's Mare Nostrum patrol program late last year.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the bloc could double the 2.9-million-euro ($3.1 millon) monthly budget and fleet of its Triton sea patrol mission.
Economic migrants 'to be returned'
Other steps include an EU-wide voluntary resettlement project, offering places for 5,000 people in need of protection, de Maiziere said.
Those considered to be economic migrants, not at risk in their home countries, would be quickly returned to their place of origin under the new proposals.
Ministers also pledged to undertake a "systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers," the commission announced in a statement.
The proposals include fingerprinting of all migrants and assistance for Italy and Greece to process asylum requests. Officials agreed that information on migratory flows in key countries such as Eritrea Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia should also be collected.
Earlier on Monday, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said Italian and Maltese ships were responding to two migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast, with as many as 450 people in peril.
rc/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)