European leaders began an emergency summit meeting Thursday in Brussels to discuss the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have lost their lives trying to enter EU nations.
The emergency summit was called after some 900 people drown Sunday when their boat capsized trying to make the Mediterranean crossing – one of the largest migration tragedies the sea has seen.
In the meantime, mourners gathered in Malta Thursday where a special interfaith funeral was held for the victims, but few coffins were present since search and rescue workers were only able to recover 24 bodies from the sea.
The United Nations has criticized the European response to the migration crisis so far and urged them to do more.
“The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach ... which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores,” said U.N. officials.
Six months ago, Italy was forced to end their coastal search and rescue operation, dubbed Mare Nostrum, after EU nations refused to provide the much needed funding or support the initiative. The U.K. and Germany in particular were critical of the operation, saying it was encouraging migration into the EU by raising the chances of being rescued.
EU nations have instead invested in a smaller operation whose emphasis is on patrolling and enforcing the borders, rather than search and rescue.
In Thursdays meeting, the leaders will discuss other options of how to deal with the ongoing crisis and are expected to deliver a 13-point proposal later in the day.
Some of these options include strengthening the EU presence at sea, increasing attacks on smugglers and holding camps for migrants in northern Africa.
According to AP’s website, European Union leaders started committing new resources Thursday to save lives in the Mediterranean at their emergency summit, and discussed action to destroy vessels that could be used for trafficking.
"First and foremost now, we have to save lives and take the right measures to do so," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrived.
AP also reported that they obtained a draft statement, which says the 28 nations would pledge to double their spending to save lives, "increase search and rescue possibilities" and to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers."
However, Libya – where the majority of migrant boats traveling to Europe leave from – says it will “confront” any unilateral EU moves to attack sites on or near its soil. The group controlling Libya's coastal capital of Tripoli has urged the bloc to consult it with any plans to deal with the migration crisis.
Over 3,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean sea in 2014 alone, and the situation is expected to get worse in 2015. Since January, 1,600 more people have lost their lives in the crossing, a number 30 times higher than the same period the year before. Over the last week or so, according to the U.N., more than 10,000 migrants have been rescued alive.