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Europe’s Migrant Crisis: U.N. Calls for Urgent E.U. Action to Save Refugees

Teraful Memorial for Victims of Mediterranean Migration Disaster 0:31

GENEVA — Europe must urgently set up an effective rescue operation for migrants at sea and commit to receiving significantly higher numbers of refugees, top U.N. officials and the International Organization for Migration said Thursday.

"A tragedy of epic proportions is unfolding in the Mediterranean," they said in a statement criticizing a 10-point plan announced by the European Union on Monday and due to be discussed at a hastily-convened summit later on Thursday.

"The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach... which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores," it said.

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European Union leaders were expected to effectively reverse a cutback in rescue operations in the Mediterranean. But the joint U.N. and IOM statement said the funding boost would not make up for the closure of an Italian mission last year after other EU countries refused to pay for it. The mission, Mare Nostrum, saved more than 100,000 lives.

It called for "setting in place a state-led, robust, proactive, and well-resourced search-and-rescue operation, urgently and without delay."

Thursday's statement was co-signed by the U.N. refugee boss Antonio Guterres, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. special representative for migration Peter Sutherland and William Lacy Swing, head of the International Organization for Migration.

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— Reuters