The leaders of the European Union were due to meet in Brussels on Thursday to tackle an escalating migration crisis and the daily arrival of hundreds of would-be asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
The one-day talks in Brussels were hastily convened following a tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya at the weekend. Only 24 bodies have been recovered of the more than 800 thought to have perished, according to the UN agency for refugees, UNHCR.
According to draft summit papers seen by dpa, leaders are set to consider “at least doubling” the funds for Mediterranean sea patrols and plans for a possible military mission targeting boats used by smugglers.
But a senior Libyan politician, speaking to the Times of Malta newspaper, warned the bloc against a military operation.
“You cannot just decide to hit,” said Mohammed al Ghirani, the foreign minister of Tripoli’s non-internationally recognized government fighting a rival government in Tobruk.
“Let’s say you strike a particular site,” al Ghirani said. “How will you know that you did not hit an innocent person, a fisherman? Does Europe have pinpoint accuracy?”
People smugglers operate freely in Libya, the main launchpad for migrant trips. Neither of the country’s two governments, each backed by different militias, has been able to stem the flow of asylum seekers toward Europe.
More than 25,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year. Since the onset of warmer weather in April, the flow has increased. By mid-morning Thursday, 667 migrants were disembarked in two Italian ports following at sea rescues.
The Mediterranean is considered the world’s most dangerous sea migration route. A Wednesday report from Amnesty International calculated that from January to March, one out of every 23rd migrant who sailed off from North Africa has perished in the crossing.
Funerals for the 24 confirmed victims of the tragedy off Libya at the weekend were held in Malta on Thursday.
There has been emphasis in the EU on working with migrants’ origin and transit countries in a bid to stem the flow.
More controversial ideas have included setting up asylum-processing centers in North Africa and distributing refugees among EU countries.