Mediterranean migrant crisis: EU sets out measures

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Media captionDamian Grammaticas reports from Rhodes on efforts to rescue migrants whose boat capsized near the Greek island

The EU has set out a package of measures to try to ease the migrant boat crisis in the Mediterranean.

Its Triton patrolling service will be strengthened and a military mandate sought to destroy people-smugglers' boats. An emergency summit of EU leaders will be held on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Italian police arrested two survivors from a sinking off Libya on suspicion of people trafficking.

A coast guard vessel carrying survivors arrived in Sicily late on Monday.

It is believed the two were the captain and a crew member from the boat that foundered on Sunday, Italian media reported.

The boat docked at Catania, bringing a group who had originally been taken to Malta after being rescued.

Libyan question

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the 10-point package set out at talks in Luxembourg was a "strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies" and "shows a new sense of urgency and political will".

"We are developing a truly European sense of solidarity in fighting human trafficking - finally so."

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Media captionThe bodies of 24 victims from Sunday were taken to Malta, with 28 survivors brought to Italy, as Yolande Knell reports

The measures include an increase in the financial resources of Frontex, which runs the EU's Mediterranean rescue service Triton, and an extension of Triton's operational area.

The EU had been criticised over the scope of Triton, which replaced the larger Italian operation Mare Nostrum at the end of last year.

The "civilian and military" operation to destroy the people-smugglers' boats would need a mandate signed off by the European Council.

Other points include:

  • Joint processing of asylum applications - within two months of their being lodged
  • Fingerprinting and recording of all migrants
  • An EU pilot project on migrant resettlement - this would be voluntary
  • Offer of return travel packages
  • Immigration liaison officers in key countries

Ms Mogherini stressed the need for action on Libya, where there was "no state entity to control borders".

Analysis: Chris Morris, BBC Europe correspondent, Luxembourg

Some EU ministers have argued that patrols have to be expanded again, that funding should be increased. Others suggest that camps could be set up in North Africa to allow migrants to apply for asylum before they have to cross the Mediterranean.

If there were easy answers they would have been found already, but if the goal is to save lives there really are only two choices.

Either you have to prevent people leaving in the first place, or you have to rescue them when the people-smugglers have cast them adrift.

Q&A: Why is Libya the focus of the exodus?

Who are the people smugglers?

Should merchant ships help?

Human smugglers are taking advantage of the political crisis in Libya to use it as a launching point for boats carrying migrants who are fleeing violence or economic hardship in Africa and the Middle East.

Ms Mogherini said: "We discussed all possible means of support for the formation of a government of national unity in Libya."

UK PM David Cameron said Sunday was a "dark day for Europe", adding that "search and rescue is only one part. We need to go after traffickers, help stabilise these countries".

Reacting to the new EU plan, Save the Children condemned what it said was a failure to set up a European search and rescue operation.

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Media captionMediterranean migration in numbers

CEO Justin Forsyth said: "What we needed from EU foreign ministers was life-saving action, but they dithered. The emergency summit on Thursday is now a matter of life and death."

As the ministers met, Italy and Malta said they were working on rescues of at least two boats in distress.

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Media captionEU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: "This is a European issue... we need to act united"

Italian PM Matteo Renzi said one of the vessels was a dinghy off the Libyan coast with about 100-150 people on board. The other was a larger boat carrying 300 people.

Earlier, the Greek coastguard said a vessel carrying dozens of migrants had run aground off the island of Rhodes. Three people were killed and 80 rescued, it said.

'Game changer'

In a joint news conference with Maltese PM Joseph Muscat in Rome, Mr Renzi said military intervention in Libya was "not on the table" but that there could be what he called "targeted interventions" against people-smugglers.

Mediterranean migrants


Migrants rescued 10-17 April


Feared to have died attempting the crossing so far this year

  • 35,000 Migrants have arrived from North Africa in 2015

  • 218,000 Estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014

  • 3,500 Migrants died attempting the crossing last year


Mr Muscat said Sunday's disaster off Libya, in which only 28 of some 700 migrants were rescued, was "a game changer", adding: "If Europe doesn't work together history will judge it very badly."

It has also been revealed that representatives of the shipping industry had warned in a letter on 31 March of "a terrible risk of further catastrophic loss of life" on migrant boats in the Mediterranean.

The UN says the route from North Africa to Italy and Malta has become the world's deadliest.

Up to 1,500 migrants are now feared to have drowned this year alone.

Rescue operations in the Mediterranean

Oct 2013-Oct 2014: Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue Italian operation aimed to keep 24-hour watch over the Mediterranean, especially the Sicily Strait, after more than 300 migrants drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa

Nov 2014: Operation Triton, a cheaper and more limited EU-led operation, began, based in Italian waters, focusing on patrolling within 30 nautical miles of the Italian coast