Seeing the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean as their only hope, thousands of Africans come to war-torn Libya.
Twenty-four coffins containing the only bodies recovered from the Mediterranean’s worst-ever migrant disaster have been laid out for a memorial service in Malta for the estimated 800 victims.
Malta’s president and prime minister, Italy’s interior minister and the EU’s migration commissioner were present for Thursday’s service, which includes Christian and Muslim prayers.
Only 28 people survived the capsizing of the migrant boat that departed from Libya last weekend.
The memorial service comes as European Union leaders are due to hold an emergency summit on ways to stem the number of migrants risking their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The leaders, who decided last year to halt the rescue of migrants, will vote to reverse their decision after a rapid escalation of deadly shipwrecks.
The weekend incident raised the death toll to around 1,800 so far this year, compared to fewer than 100 who died before the end of April last year, when a similar number attempted the journey.
Italy shut down the mission that saved the lives of more than 100,000 migrants last year because other EU countries refused to pay for it. It was replaced with a smaller EU scheme whose main focus is to patrol the bloc’s borders, after countries argued that saving migrants encouraged more to come.
The peak migration season of late spring and summer has barely begun, with international organisations estimating tens of thousands of African and Asian migrants likely to attempt the journey per month, mostly from Libya. Last year the death toll eventually reached 3,200.
The leaders are likely to agree in Brussels to double the cash and equipment available to two EU border patrol missions in the Mediterranean, a senior EU diplomat told the Reuters news agency.
Many EU countries still believe search and rescue operations alone will not solve the problem, and more must be done to fight traffickers, who have taken advantage of lawlessness in Libya to set up operations that spirited 170,000 migrants across the sea last year.
One proposal the leaders will discuss is a military and civilian mission to capture and destroy the traffickers’ boats.
The leaders will also discuss a pilot project to resettle 5,000 to 10,000 refugees from Mediterranean countries to other EU states, the senior diplomat told Reuters. The United Nations estimates 36,000 have made the voyage so far this year.