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  • A migrant cries during a candlelight vigil to commemorate migrants who died at sea in Sliema, outside Valletta, April 22, 2015.

    A migrant cries during a candlelight vigil to commemorate migrants who died at sea in Sliema, outside Valletta, April 22, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 April 2015

The European Union border agency chief dismissed the idea of dedicating the agency to search and rescue to prevent maritime refugee tragedies.

Saving refugees’ lives in the Mediterranean cannot be a priority for maritime patrols, the head of Frontex, the European Union border agency, has told the Guardian.

As the E.U.prepares to meet for an emergency summit Thursday over the immigrant ship wreck crisis, which saw some 800 people drowned over the weekend, Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri refused to turn the Triton border patrol off Italy's coast into a search and rescue mission.

He also dismissed E.U. proposals to head off human traffickers around Libya.

Leggeri told the Guardian, “Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this is in my understanding not in the mandate of the European Union.”

RELATED: How Europe Created Its Own Refugee Crisis 

Thursday’s meeting has been called in light of a string of maritime disasters, in which vessels overloaded with asylum seekers have sunk in the Mediterranean.

This year, the problem has intensified, with 50 times more immigrant fatalities this year than by the same point last year.

Addressing this, Francois Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of immigrants said Wednesday that rich countries should agree to implement a plan to accept a million refugees from Syria and Africa in the next five years, to put an end to the Mediterranean disasters.

“We know that a great number of Syrians, in particular, are going to leave those countries and if we don’t foresee an official mechanism for them, they will resort to the smugglers,” the professor of law at the University McGill in Montreal, Canada, told the Guardian.

Meanwhile in Kenya, the African Union called for regional and global urgent action to halt the disturbing surge of migrant deaths, who predominantly set out from from sub-Saharan region of the continent.

“The trafficking of people and irregular immigration cannot be resolved by one country alone. It requires urgent global and regional action,” said the president of the A.U., Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who sent her condolences to the families of the victims.

An EU proposal to send warships to the Libyan coast to combat oil and arms smugglers, which, they say, encourage more migrants to take to the seas in hopes of being rescued and taken to Europe, has been criticized as insensitive and xenophobic.

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