It is one of Europe’s most pressing problems. Over the past few days more than 1,600 illegal immigrants arrived in the EU.
It is a rising tide that has highlighted the need for better political cooperation.
In Italy and southern Spain detention centres with just a few hundred beds are overwhelmed.
Guillerme Molinie, from the NGO Doctors Without Borders, said: “This problem cannot be treated just by this little village in Sicily, this is a European problem – we have to push to have a European policy to welcome these persons in a correct way.”
Spots where security is low are targeted by would-be immigrants.
Spain’s Canary and Italy’s Lampedusa islands are the current favourites.
The crisis has mostly been handled on a national level, with bilateral accords between Madrid and Morocco, or Italy and Libya.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has exemplified this “go it alone approach” – heading to Mali to promote a new policy of selective immigration.
Madrid has a different approach. Spanish Foreign Minister Bernadino Leon went to Senegal to launch a new series of diplomatic measures and border controls dubbed the “Africa Plan.”
The EU is creating a rapid-reaction team to halt the influx of migrants, and boosting cash to help new arrivals.
Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega says it is not just a Spanish problem. “It’s Europe’s problem, and therefore something we have to address together,” she said. “We have to look at this question of migration from various angles, security, development and cooperation, how to regulate the flow of people.”
Progress is slow. The European Commission has not yet finalised a list of countries deemed safe enough for asylum requests to be dismissed – because it cannot decide on the criteria to be used.