The European Union has proposed doubling the size of its Mediterranean search and rescue operations as at least 20 people are feared dead in the latest incident involving migrants trying to make their way to the continent.
A 10-point plan presented by the European Commission on Monday is expected to be discussed at an extraordinary summit of EU leaders on Thursday.
- Increase financial resources
- Capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers
- Gather information on smugglers and trace their funds
- Help Greece and Italy in processing asylum applications
- Ensure fingerprinting of all migrants in member states
- Consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism
- Offer a number of places to persons in need of protection
- Establish a new programme for the rapid return of irregular migrants
- Engage with countries surrounding Libya initiatives
- Gather intelligence on migratory flows
"The situation in the Mediterranean is dramatic. It cannot continue like this," said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
Federica Mogherini, the chief of EU foreign affairs, said the deaths of hundreds of migrants over the weekend and Monday has "finally" given the idea of "a new sense of urgency, a new sense of political will" to tackle the crisis.
Even if the move is approved, it would leave the operation smaller and less well-funded than an Italian mission that was abandoned last year due to costs and domestic opposition citing sea rescues as attracting more migrants.
Italy and Malta were working to rescue two migrant boats off the coast of Libya on Monday, with about 400 people on board
At least 20 migrants were feared dead on the boats, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) said after receiving a distress call from a person on board one of the vessels.
Earlier on Monday, at least 90 people were rescued after a boat carrying migrants ran aground off the Greek island of Rhodes, police said. Three deaths were confirmed by Greek coastguards.
Hundreds of migrants are thought to have drowned when their boat overturned on Sunday, off the coast of Libya.
Up to 1,500 migrants are now feared to have drowned this year alone.
'Europe must do more'
Many European governments have long been reluctant to fund rescue operations for fear of encouraging more people to make the crossing in search of a better life in Europe, but they now face increasing outrage over the latest deaths.
"Europe can do more and Europe must do more," said Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament.
"It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions."
William Lacy Swing, chief of the IOM, urged European countries to support Italy's Mare Nostrum rescue operation, which was stopped last year due to high operating costs.
Mare Nostrum, created after more than 350 people drowned off Lampedusa in October 2013, rescued 130,000 people last year.
Italy scaled back the operation after failing to persuade its European partners to help meet its operating costs of $12m a month.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies