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EU leaders in migrant summit deal

Published 23/04/2015

Migrants wait to enter a Red Cross tent after disembarking from the Italian Finance Police vessel Denaro in the harbor of Catania, Sicily, southern Italy (AP)
Migrants wait to enter a Red Cross tent after disembarking from the Italian Finance Police vessel Denaro in the harbor of Catania, Sicily, southern Italy (AP)

European Union leaders have committed extra ships, planes and helicopters to save lives in the Mediterranean at an emergency summit convened after hundreds of migrants drowned in the space of a few days.

The politicians also agreed to lay the groundwork for military action against traffickers.

Germany and France pledged two ships while Britain committed three to move into the Mediterranean, and other member states also lined up more vessels and helicopters that could be used to rescue migrants, officials said.

The member states also agreed to triple the funds for the EU's border operation that patrols the Mediterranean and could be called on for emergency rescues to reach around 9 million euros (£6.5 million) a month.

Leaders also assigned EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to line up the diplomatic options that would allow EU military to strike against the boats used by traffickers.

"Leaders have already pledged significantly greater support, including many more vessels, aircraft and experts" than had been anticipated before the summit, EU president Donald Tusk said.

Mr Tusk said every possible action needed to be in line with international law and human rights. Officials said the lack of a strong Libyan government would probably make UN backing necessary.

"First and foremost now, we have to save lives and take the right measures to do so," German chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would contribute the navy's flagship, HMS Bulwark, along with three helicopters and two border patrol ships to the EU effort.

"As the country in Europe with the biggest defence budget we can make a real contribution," he said, but added that this would not include accepting a share of the refugees.

The task ahead is huge, with more than 10,000 migrants plucked from seas between Italy and Libya just over the last week, fleeing poverty and conflict.

For several years, EU leaders have done little more than deplore the rising death toll and mark tragedies with moments of silence and wreaths instead of fundamental action. When Libya disintegrated politically after the overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, Europe failed to take forceful action.

"Right now it's a question of fixing yesterday's errors," French president Francois Hollande said.

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