EU to hold urgent meeting after 'unacceptable' migrant disaster

EU to hold urgent meeting after 'unacceptable' migrant disaster

BRUSSELS - The European Union on Sunday called an emergency meeting of ministers to discuss what the top EU diplomat said was the "unacceptable" tragedy of up to 700 people feared drowned in the latest Mediterranean migrant shipwreck.

The European Commission said the meeting would involve foreign and interior ministers from the 28-member bloc, but gave no date.

"The reality is stark and our actions must therefore be bold. These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act," it said in a statement.

The Commission said it is consulting with member states, European agencies and international organisations to prepare a new European migration strategy, which it would adopt in mid-May.

"What we need is immediate actions to prevent further loss of life as well as a comprehensive approach to managing migration better in all its aspects."

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the wave of migrant boat sinkings in the Mediterranean as "unacceptable".

"We have said too many times 'never again'. Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay," she said in a statement.

Mogherini said the crisis would be discussed Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, where she would present a set of proposals to Libya, one of the main trafficking routes.

"We need to save human lives all together, as all together we need to protect our borders and to fight the trafficking of human beings," she said, urging that the task be shared and not "left only to the southern countries".

Illegal immigration, mostly from Africa, has rapidly expanded with ruthless people smugglers based in chaotic Libya taking overcrowded, unseaworthy boats north, mostly to Italy and Greece.

Southern EU countries have complained that they are bearing too much of the brunt of the rescue work and processing of migrants.

The latest shipwreck took place between Libya and Malta and, if the toll is confirmed, would be easily the biggest such disaster to date.

The Commission said more responsibility should be taken by countries used as departure points.

"For as long as there is war and hardship in our neighbourhood near and far, people will continue to seek a safe haven on European shores," it said.

"And as long as countries of origin and transit do not take action to prevent these desperate trips, people will continue to put their lives at risk."

French President Francois Hollande called earlier Sunday for such a meeting, saying Europe "must act" against the growing catalogue of mass drownings of migrants attempting to reach its shores, and calling for closer surveillance of the routes used by people smugglers.

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