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EU To Hold Emergency Summit Over Mediterranean Migrant Tragedy

Mediterranean tragedy 042315

Following the recent tragic events in the Mediterranean, European Council President Donald Tusk has called for an emergency meeting of the heads of states and governments of EU Member states Thursday to discuss migratory pressures in the Mediterranean, and ways to tackle the number of migrants risking the perilous journey across the sea.

The special meeting was convened within days of the death of over 800 refugees and migrants from north African countries after a boat carrying them capsized and sank off Libya over the weekend.

The number of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa has increased in recent months, and the traffickers take advantage by making illegal money by carrying thousands of people trying to reach the safe shores of Malta, Italy and Greece through turbulent Mediterranean waters in often overcrowded vessels.

The International Organization for Migration says that so far in 2015 there have been a 30-fold increase in deaths during the dangerous Mediterranean crossing, compared to the same period last year, and warns the figure could rise to 30,000.

The EU's border mission, Operation Triton, has already assisted the region in rescuing some 7,800 migrants in the central Mediterranean since it was deployed a few months ago.

It was the largest loss of life from any incident in the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants, prompting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to call for direct action against people smugglers, whom he described as "the slave traders of the 21st Century".

Italian police arrested the Tunisian captain of the boat, and charged him with reckless multiple homicide and facilitating illegal immigration.

In the wake of the shocking incident, the UN Human Rights Chief urged European Union governments to take a more sophisticated, more courageous and less callous approach to coping with the flows of migrants towards Europe.

The EU's Mediterranean rescue service Triton is simply not fit for purpose, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, adding that it was totally inadequate and more geared to border control and policing the seas than to saving lives.

He called on the international community to urgently put in place an independent inquiry into these events. "We owe no less to the scores of migrants who have suffered death, injury and other horrific human rights violations in their attempts to reach Europe," Zeid said. "Our overriding priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea."

Tusk called on the leaders to "agree on very practical measures contributing to this objective, in particular by strengthening search and rescue possibilities, by fighting the smugglers and by discouraging their victims from putting their life at risk, while reinforcing solidarity between the Member States. These immediate measures will be a first step in developing a more systemic and geographically comprehensive EU approach to migration in the near future."

The discussions are expected to focus on how to save lives, which could include fighting human trafficking, strengthening the EU operations at sea, preventing illegal migration flows, and assisting the most affected EU member states and cooperating with the countries of origin and transit.

The European Council will build on the outcome of the joint Council meeting of foreign ministers and justice and home affairs ministers on Monday, which proposed a 10-point action plan on migration following a week of shipwrecks on the Mediterranean.

The summit will begin at 4 pm local time in Brussels with the usual meeting with the President of the European Parliament. The leaders will observe a minute's silence in homage to the African victims. After the working session, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission will hold a Press conference on the outcome of the summit.

A range of measures, including military action against the smugglers and people traffickers, are proposed in the draft statement for Thursday's meeting in Brussels, reports say.

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