More calls to prevent migrant deaths in Mediterranean | News | DW | 23.04.2015
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More calls to prevent migrant deaths in Mediterranean

EU leaders are to hold an emergency summit aimed at revising their current Mediterranean rescue operations, which were cut back in 2014. This year alone, over 1,750 refugees have drowned trying to reach the EU.

Ahead of Thursday's summit, speculation circulated through the media as to EU leaders' proposals for search and rescue missions at sea.

According to The Guardian, a confidential draft document from the EU summit in Brussels reveals that only 5,000 resettlement places in Europe are to be offered to refugees.

Furthermore, the draft summit statement reportedly indicates that the majority of those who reach Italy will be sent back home as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return program coordinated by Frontex, the EU's border agency.

Another diplomatic source, cited by AFP, said EU leaders would also consider launching a military operation against human traffickers, held responsible for the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean.

The EU officials gathering in Brussels on Thursday were also planning to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers," according to AFP.

The emergency talks in Brussels could also result with EU leaders approving "at least doubling" of funds for Mediterranean Sea patrols.

Global displacement crisis straining Europe

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has echoed other UN officials in calling migrant deaths a tragedy that needs a coordinated response. Eight hundred people may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday alone.

"Our ability to save lives at sea has to be guaranteed, because the current situation is a tremendous tragedy," Guterres told the Organization of American States in Washington. "There are people traffickers, and we have to take a very tough line with these people who violate human rights."

European leaders have faced criticism for policies toward migrants who have embarked on perilous journeys to reach Europe - often fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 1,750 people have drowned so far this year in the Mediterranean.

'A stain'

Ahead of Thursday's EU migration meeting, major names in European business, politics and civil society signed a joint letter from the European Council on Foreign Relations calling for renewed search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Signatories included the former premiers and foreign ministers of multiple countries, as well as sitting members of national legislatures and the European Parliament.

German names included former ambassador to China and Japan Volker Stanzel, Die Welt chief correspondent Michael Stürmer and the tycoon, art collector, and philanthropist Roland Berger.

"Migration is a complex problem that needs a comprehensive and long-term approach, but the first priority for European leaders must be to stop the death toll that is a stain on the conscience of our continent," the letter begins. "The events of recent weeks in the Mediterranean show that stopping search and rescue has not dissuaded migrants, but vastly increased the numbers of deaths."

The Bundestag discussed the issue Wednesday. In a Cabinet meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that "images of drowned people are incompatible with the values of the European Union," deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said in Berlin, adding that the EU's first priority must be saving human lives.

In Berlin on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed migration strategies with his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop. Australia is known for its particularly harsh methods of turning back migrants at sea.

mkg/jil/bk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)