Migrants crisis: EU leaders to tread carefully

EU Commissioner on Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos (right) and Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano (second right) attend an interfaith funeral ceremony of 24 migrants who died off the Libyan coast on 23 April, 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Funerals for some of the migrants who died off the Libyan coast this week were held in Malta

Germany's influential Die Zeit newspaper acerbically describes the mood amongst EU leaders heading into their emergency summit on migration as: "We don't want migrants to drown. We don't want them over here. So what do we want to do?"

EU governments are certainly more than aware of the explosive nature of the migration debate.

People across Europe have been deeply moved by the images of death and desperation at sea, on televisions and newspaper front pages across the continent.

On the other hand, their leaders know that - especially in the wake of a deep economic crisis in Europe, with high unemployment in many EU countries - the mood in many quarters is not exactly welcoming towards "foreigners".

Anti-immigrant, populist parties threaten the political status quo across the continent.

EU leaders will tread warily today. They'll phrase their public statements very carefully.

There will be expressions of outrage at the human traffickers who put people on the boats in the first place, and an emphasis on the EU helping people caught in war zones, by supporting UN efforts at conflict resolution and government-building.

Underlying this though is a drive to stop people trying to enter Europe in their hundreds of thousands.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Italy says it cannot adequately deal with the thousands of migrants arriving on its shores

But while trying to diminish the pull factor, EU leaders have to be realistic about the powerful push factor, driving people to seek a better life.

Trying to stabilise conflict-ridden countries in Africa and the Middle East is very much a long-term aspiration.

In the meantime the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots is growing all the time. Lack of access to water, power struggles and sectarian conflict are rife in developing parts of the world

Like a hole patched in a straining dam, the pressure builds up and bursts through elsewhere.

A few years ago Spain was the focus of people smugglers and their boats. The problem has been largely reduced by Spain making deals with the countries most boats were coming from, like Morocco.

Now Italy is under pressure, but Greece and Bulgaria are rapidly becoming target entry points to Europe for migrants too.

The EU may want to pull up the drawbridge, but every fortress has its weak points.

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