Italy seeks EU help on migrant crossings

Italian Guardia Costiera takes part in a rescue operation of migrants off the coast of Sicily on 13 April 2015. Image copyright AFP / GUARDIA COSTIERA
Image caption Almost 10,000 people have been rescued trying to reach the Italian coast in recent days

Italy has called for more help from the European Union in handling the surge in migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.

Almost 10,000 people have been rescued trying to reach the Italian coast in recent days. Hundreds have died since the start of the year.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said: "We have not had an adequate response from the EU."

An EU spokeswoman said there was no "silver bullet" for the situation.

'Falling on shoulders'

Last year a record 170,000 people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East have made the perilous crossing to Italy.

More than 500 people have died in the first three month of 2015. Another 400 are feared to have died when a migrant boat capsized off Libya on Monday.

By midday on Thursday alone the Italian coastguard said it had rescued 893 migrants.

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Media captionJames Reynolds watched surviving migrants arrive in Sicily

Numbers have increased in recent days with improving weather bringing conditions more conducive to making the crossing of at least 500km (310 miles).

But vessels provided by people smugglers are often underpowered and overcrowded.

Speaking to Corriere della Sera newspaper Mr Gentiloni said: "Ninety percent of the cost of the patrol and sea rescue operations are falling on our shoulders, and we have not had an adequate response from the EU."

"The double risk of an advance of the Islamic State group in Libya and the waves of migrants means we are in a race against the clock," he warned.

Mr Gentiloni said that the EU was only spending €3m (£2m) a month on its Operation Triton sea patrols.

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Media captionMigrants tell Quentin Sommerville why they are desperate to get to Europe

Italy's Mare Nostrum rescue operation with a budget of two-thirds more began in 2013 as a short-term measure and was scrapped at the end of last year. There were concerns it was encouraging migrant crossings.

The European Commission's migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told the BBC: "We don't have a silver bullet that will make it [the situation] go away and no amount of finger pointing will change that."

Also on Thursday, EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told reporters: "The commission has neither the funds nor the political support to create a European system to carry out search and rescue operations."

But he said current discussions on EU immigration policy were an opportunity to consider increasing the resources of the border agency Frontex.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency also called on the EU "to step up a strong search and rescue mechanism".

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been without a stable government allowing trafficking networks to thrive.

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