Migrant crisis: EU leaders vow to triple spending, go after smugglers

 Migrant crisis: EU leaders vow to triple spending, go after smugglers
European leaders attending an April 23 EU summit in Brussels observe a minute of silence for migrants killed at sea. (Olivier Hoslet / European Pressphoto Agency)

European leaders announced Thursday that they will triple the funding for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to stop an escalating migrant crisis that has claimed more than 1,700 lives this year.

At the end of an emergency summit in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk said the plans also included moving to seize and destroy smugglers' vessels before they can be used.


He emphasized that any action would be in keeping with international law and respect human rights.

The spending increase for the effort reportedly would raise the alliance's spending to $9.7 million a month.

The 28 EU member states also pledged to provide extra ships, planes and helicopters, Tusk said, "to limit regular migration flows and to discourage people from putting their lives at risk."

"This means better cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, especially the countries around Libya," he said.

Leaving the session, British Prime Minister David Cameron described it as a "positive meeting" and said a "comprehensive plan" was emerging to go after criminal gangs, traffickers and the boat owners while working to stabilize the migrants' countries of origin. Most of the migrants come from Africa and the Middle East.

Cameron earlier had said he was offering the Royal Navy's flagship vessel, the Bulwark, along with three helicopters and two border patrol ships to help in the region.

"They'll be saving lives, not offering people asylum in the UK, but saving lives and taking them to Italy or to other nearby countries," he said. "That's the role we can play in the immediate term but the comprehensive strategy is what in the end will make the difference and solve this problem."

Germany and France reportedly also promised to provide two ships each to the effort.

Going into the meeting, the leaders also had been expected to discuss how to process the migrants once they arrive on European soil, as many people who survive the perilous crossing find themselves embroiled in a lengthy and bureaucratic immigration process that can last up to a year.

The session came as interfaith funerals were held in Malta for 24 unidentified people who died after a vessel capsized in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy over the weekend.

They were traveling on a boat that officials believe could have been packed with more than 700 people, mostly from Africa and Asia.

The 24 bodies are the only ones discovered so far, with many of those on board believed to have been locked below deck when the vessel capsized.

The disaster caused widespread shock, and within days Italian authorities found themselves rushing to reach yet more boats in distress, each packed with hundreds of migrants.

Officials said an estimated 3,279 people drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2014 -- the deadliest year to date. But with 1,727 deaths recorded already this year, calls for urgent action prompted the meeting in Brussels.


Boyle is a special correspondent.