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EU leaders to restore rescue operations after migrant boat disaster

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-04-23 09:47

EU leaders to restore rescue operations after migrant boat disaster

A migrant cries during a candlelight vigil to commemorate migrants who died at sea in Sliema, outside Valletta, April 22, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

BRUSSELS/ROME - European Union leaders who decided last year to halt the rescue of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean will reverse their decision on Thursday at a summit hastily convened after nearly 2,000 people died at sea.

Public outrage over the deaths peaked this week after up to 900 migrants died last Sunday when their boat sank on its way to Europe from Libya.

That has raised the death toll to around 1,800 so far this year, compared to fewer than 100 who died before the end of April last year, when a similar number attempted the journey.

Italy shut down the mission that saved the lives of more than 100,000 migrants last year because other EU countries refused to pay for it. It was replaced with a smaller EU scheme whose main focus is to patrol the bloc's borders, after countries argued that saving migrants encouraged more to come.

The peak migration season of late spring and summer has barely begun, with international organisations estimating tens of thousands of African and Asian migrants likely to attempt the journey per month, mostly from Libya. Last year the death toll eventually reached 3,200.

The leaders are likely to agree in Brussels to double the cash and equipment available to two EU border patrol missions in the Mediterranean, a senior EU diplomat said.

Their area of operations, while at the discretion of commanders on the ground, would also probably be extended closer to the North African coast, not just waters near EU shores. Once patrolling in the area, maritime law obliges vessels to rescue people in trouble.

"On Thursday our overriding priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea," European Council President Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to the leaders.

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