Europe must do more to help migrants crossing the Mediterranean, United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday (May 26) ahead of a visit to Brussels, as a planned European Union (EU) naval operation awaits UN Security Council approval.
Europe "can provide more help," Ban said at a joint press conference in Dublin with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, calling for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea to be "further strengthened".
"I'm urging European leaders to address this issue in a more comprehensive way and a collective way," the United Nations secretary-general said, adding that any approach should also look at the "roots" of the problem in countries of origin.
Following Ban's comments, the EU's border agency announced it would expand its search and rescue operation to help cope with the upsurge in migrants trying to reach Europe. The Warsaw-based Frontex border agency said in a statement it will now deploy three aircraft, six offshore patrol vessels, 12 patrol boats, two helicopters and 15 teams of experts to the Triton operation off southern Italy during the peak summer season and also expand its operational area.
The move constitutes a doubling or tripling of the resources deployed up to now and comes a month after EU leaders agreed to increase the operation's monthly funding from three million euros (US$3.3 million, S$4.4 million) to nine million euros. The expansion would "support the Italian authorities in controlling its sea borders and in saving lives, too many of which have already been tragically lost this year," Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said in the statement.
Twenty-six European countries are participating in the operation, Frontex said.
The European Commission has also unveiled plans to make the 28-nation EU share the burden of frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Malta, although some countries like Britain are opposed. The Commission was to reveal the latest version of its plan for a more equitable distribution of migrants among EU nations at a news conference on Wednesday.
Meanwhile EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she hopes to discuss with Ban "the link between development, cooperation and migration".
"We always say that we have to tackle the root causes of the phenomenon," the former Italian foreign minister said, calling for the EU and African countries to discuss how they can "develop more possibilities for African citizens to face a better present and a better future".
So far this year, some 1,770 migrants have perished on the hazardous journey to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration, a 30-fold increase on the same period in 2014.
Speaking in Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said 7,000 people had been rescued from the Mediterranean in the first three days of this month. European quotas to resettle 20,000 refugees within the EU were "wholly inadequate to the magnitude of this crisis," he said. "I urge far greater emphasis on expanding channels for migration into Europe.
"Among these migrants are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. A more humane, less mean-spirited response to their plight would be more worthy of member states of the United Nations."