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Today's European Commission pledge will not stop 'spiralling humanitarian crisis' in the Mediterranean

Refugees and migrants will continue to die in the Mediterranean in their thousands unless EU countries provide more resources for extensive search-and-rescue operations, Amnesty International said after a European Commission announcement on migration today.

During a press briefing in Brussels this morning, Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship acknowledged that the EU needed to react more efficiently to the “ever starker” reality of the rising number of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

He announced an extension to the EU’s border management operation “Triton” until the end of the year and the release of £9.5 million to help Italy with the reception of rescued migrants. However, there was no commitment to increasing search-and-rescue operations, which are essential to dealing with the increasing numbers making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, Amnesty said.

Three hundred people died last week off the coast of Lampedusa and nearly 3,000 had to be rescued at the weekend. According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 220,000 people crossed in 2014 and the numbers for January already show a 60% increase in incoming migrants registered in Italy compared with the same month last year. There were close to 3,500 recorded deaths last year, making it the deadliest sea crossing in the world.

Before its closure at the end of last year, Italy’s search-and-rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” saved thousands of lives, at a cost of £7 million per month. The significantly smaller and far less extensive “Triton” still costs between £1.1 and £2.1 million a month. 

Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International European Institutions Office, said:

“We agree that a European solution to the search-and-rescue crisis is urgently needed, but that’s not being offered here. Member states need to step up and chip in. Extending operation Triton without increasing its assets and operational area changes absolutely nothing.”

Despite Mare Nostrum’s closure, Italy’s coastguard has continued to lead on life-saving operations in the central Mediterranean – contributing to the rescue of the nearly 3000 people last weekend alone, which included the deployment of boats and planes from the EU border agency Frontex. The loss of more than 300 lives last week highlighted the glaring gap in search-and-rescue resources.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, said:

“The latest Lampedusa tragedy laid bare yet again the woeful inadequacy of the European Union’s current border control approach to the spiralling humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Today’s announcement has failed to change the simple fact that without more resources from member states for search-and-rescue, more people will die on the high seas.”

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