Foreign ministers from across Europe are due to meet in Rome for a summit on the growing humanitarian crisis caused by a rise in the number of undocumented migrants.

Almost three thousand would-be migrants are known to have drowned trying to make the crossing to Europe via the Mediterranean this year.

Al Jazeera's Phil Lavelle, reporting from Rome on Thursday, said that the meeting was between EU  and African foreign officials as part of an ongoing discussion.

"It is part of the Rabat Process - a broad discussion of migration that is ongoing. The talks now are being held in Italy, which is a country that has been dealing with migration on a large scale.

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"This is a closed meeting, so we are not going to find anything out for a little while, but there have been ongoing debates over the strategies used in dealing with migration."

The Italian navy's policy of going out and searching for boats in distress has been criticised over fears it would encourage more people to try the route.

Our correspondent said an alternative policy was being carried out by the EU border control force, and was more about controlling the border and restricting access. 

The migrants are from all over North Africa and the Middle East, but the main departure points are Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

So far this year at least 165 thousand migrants have made it to Europe via the Mediterranean, this is an increase of about 100,000 people compared to last year, our correspondent said.

Migrant ship

The gathering of the EU ministers on Thursday comes as smuggling ship carrying more than 700 men, women and children that broke down in gale-force winds while trying to reach Europe was towed to the Greek island of Crete.

It is one of the largest single crossings of its kind in recent years.

The tens of thousands of people who risk the hazardous journey every year pay smuggling gangs to carry them over in usually unseaworthy craft. Most end up in Italy.

Panayiotis Efstathiou, a senior Greek public health official, said doctors have boarded the vessel to conduct preliminary health checks and polio vaccinations for children from Syria, where the disease has made a comeback.

A pregnant woman who was haemorrhaging was airlifted to a hospital on Wednesday, but there were otherwise no reports of serious health problems aboard the Baris.

Rumours of armed men aboard the vessel proved unfounded, the coastguard said.

The ship anchored offshore, and the passengers will be ferried in small groups to Ierapetra, where an indoor basketball stadium has been transformed into a reception center.

Efstathiou said the Syrians will receive refugee status and released, while other passengers deemed "illegal immigrants" will be interned pending deportation.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies