Spurred by Sunday’s migrant disaster, which authorities feared would be the deadliest ever in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Union on Monday vowed to ramp up lifesaving search-and-rescue operations even as more rickety vessels bound for Europe fell into distress.
In a candid mea culpa, European officials conceded that they had acted too slowly to address what has become a mounting humanitarian emergency on the continent’s southern flank. They announced a 10-point proposal to shore up its refugee management system, including an effort to seize and destroy the ships used by migrant traffickers.
The dangerous journeys from North Africa and elsewhere have gone on for years, but now a surge is unfolding. Officials estimate that as many as 1 million migrants are bottlenecked in lawless Libya, having arrived there from pockets of misery and conflict in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean rose sharply last year to more than 220,000, with the majority arriving in Italy, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. This month alone, more than 13,300 migrants have arrived — a number roughly equal to the first three months of the year combined.
The death toll has also jumped. Even before Sunday’s disaster, 950 migrants had died in the central Mediterranean this year, compared with only 50 during the same period last year, the U.N. refugee agency said.