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Migrant Crisis: Europe to Triple Funds for Rescues in Mediterranean

Critics called it a face-saving operation that did not go far enough to emulate an Italian rescue mission abandoned six months ago.
Image: 220 migrants rescued by Italian ship
A picture made available on April 23 shows some of over 200 illegal migrants, as they are rescued by the Italian Coast Guard on April 22. ALESSANDRO DI MEO / EPA
/ Source: NBC News

European leaders came through with pledges of big ships, aircraft and a tripling in funds to save lives in the Mediterranean after the deaths at sea of more than 1,300 migrants over the past three weeks.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose country has been faced with almost daily tragedy as rescuers plucked bodies from frigid waters, called it "a giant step forward."

Within days, Britain's aptly named HMS Bulwark and the German supply ship Berlin could be steaming to the heart of the Mediterranean in the biggest sign of the European Union's belated commitment to contain the tide of rickety ships making the perilous crossing.

For several years as death tolls have mounted, EU leaders have done little more than deplore the loss of lives and mark tragedies with moments of silence and wreaths instead of fundamental action. On Thursday, EU leaders pledged to do more, committing at least nine vessels to monitor the waters for traffickers and intervene in case of need. Other member states also lined up more ships, planes and helicopters that could be used to rescue migrants. The member states agreed to triple funding to 9 million euros ($9.7 million) a month for the EU's border operation that patrols the Mediterranean.

For tiny Malta, the smallest EU member state with a population of 450,000, the summit produced nothing particularly new.

The assets being proposed "will never be enough," Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat said. "It is definitely not enough if the numbers that are being communicated about prospective migratory flows are anything to go by."

Over the past week alone, more than 10,000 people have been plucked from the high seas between Italy and Libya. At least 1,300 people have died in April alone.

— The Associated Press