An EU version of Italy’s sea rescue mission for migrants is to be launched next month, in response to repeated calls from Rome for help in dealing with the human tide from Africa and the Middle East.
In Brussels the EU said its Frontex border agency would complement and eventually replace Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” operation, which Rome says costs 9.5 million euros a month.
The level of funding for the new European mission remains uncertain.
“The ‘Frontex Plus’ operation will substitute, take over Mare Nostrum, even if it will not be to the same extent. ‘Mare Nostrum’ has been very ambitious and we don’t know if we can find the means to do exactly what Italy has done,” said Cecilia Malmström, EU commissioner for Home Affairs.
The minister said resources for Frontex Plus would depend on additional contributions from governments.
Until now calls on member states have largely fallen on deaf ears. After his meeting in Brussels, Italy’s interior minister says he is ready to try again.
“We will ask for other member states to contribute. The more they do so in terms of ships and helicopters, the larger the extension of the Frontex Plus operation will be,” Angelino Alfano said.
Italy has long argued that it cannot continue to take in desperate people often heading for other parts of Europe.
Whether governments will agree to contribute more is open to question, given the strength of anti-immigrant feeling in some EU countries.
Euronews correspondent in Brussels Margherita Sforza said: “The fundamental question to answer is how to find new financial resources. Italy and the commission will fight in order to raise the EU’s budget for Frontex in 2015”.
Last weekend saw a familiar tale of death at sea as a migrant boat overturned. An Italian navy patrol boat found 73 migrants on board a rubber dinghy, along with 18 dead bodies. All were taken to the port of Pozzallo.
On Monday Italy again coped on its own, bringing more than 1,300 migrants to Calabria after a series of weekend rescues.
More than 100,000 have arrived in Italy this year – up from 42,000 in 2013 – many fleeing conflicts.
Nearly 2,000 people fleeing Africa and the Middle East have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, most of them in the past three months as they tried to reach Europe from Libya, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
“In all, we believe that 1,889 people have perished this year while making such journeys, 1,600 of them since the start of June,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.