Published On: Thu, Apr 23rd, 2015

EU leaders to pledge rescue for migrants, but no fix for problem

European Union leaders will reverse a cutback in rescue operations in the Mediterranean on Thursday to try to prevent record numbers of people drowning as they try to flee war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

But an emergency EU summit in Brussels, called after up to 900 went down on a single boat on Sunday, will do little else beyond laying out options, including attacks on smugglers and holding camps for migrants, on which the 28 states are divided.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc’s pre-eminent leader, said on arrival that Europe’s values and credibility in the rest of the world were on the line “and so the issue today is of the greatest importance, in terms of saving human lives”.

Underlining global attention, the United Nations criticised the European response so far and urged it to do more: “The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach … which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, fighting an election against anti-immigration populists, brandished the EU’s biggest defence budget in pledging his navy’s helicopter-carrying flagship and two other vessels to an operation he previously refused to support for fear of tempting more people out to sea.

But he stressed those picked up would not automatically be given refuge in Britain and would mostly be delivered to Italy, whose prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said he was optimistic that his European allies would no longer let Rome struggle alone.

European Council President Donald Tusk said as he arrived to chair the summit that no one had any illusions the leaders could resolve the problems immediately. “We cannot. The real causes are war, instability and poverty in the whole region.”

There were just 28 survivors from Sunday’s disaster, which appeared to be the worst ever among migrants fleeing by sea to Europe from north Africa.

A poignant interfaith funeral was held in Malta for 24 victims, the only ones whose bodies have been recovered so far from a ship in which many are believed to have been locked in below deck.

Imam Mohammed El Sadi said what had happened should raise awareness of the migrants’ plight while Bishop Mario Grech called for action motivated by love, rather than just the law.

“We can continue to read out the laws like lawyers do, but that is not enough,” he said.

A draft EU statement seen by Reuters and expected to be issued around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) lists 13 proposals to deal with the pressure of hundreds of thousands trying to reach a bloc here anti-immigrant political parties are on the rise.

But only the first point, “strengthening our presence at sea”, which involves “at least doubling” financing and boosting the naval presence, is likely to translate into action soon.

 

EARLIER MISSION CLOSED

Italy shut down a mission that saved the lives of more than 100,000 migrants last year because other EU countries refused to pay for it. It was replaced with a smaller EU scheme whose main focus is to patrol the bloc’s borders, after countries argued that saving migrants encouraged more to come.

EU officials say that once leaders start making pledges of help at the summit, due to start at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), the total increase announced may be greater. But military action in Libya, setting up “reception centres” abroad or even redistributing refugees around EU states face significant obstacles.

Source: Reuters

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