EU pledges extra $12m to migrant patrols in Mediterranean
The EU has announced it will increase aid to Italy to help it cope with a huge influx of refugees, and extend its own maritime operations to the end of the year.
The EU's home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulus, on Thursday said the bloc would give Italy $12m to reinforce border surveillance and extend its operations in the Mediterranean to at least the end of 2015.
Italy has been overwhelmed by the number of migrants heading to Europe from North Africa, many of whom attempt to cross the sea in unsafe vessels. Thousands have drowned in the crossings as a result, with 300 alone dying on 11 February.
Italy late last year ended its search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, saying it could no longer afford the mission, which was costing more than $10m a month. It was replaced by the EU's Triton operation, which is a limited maritime border patrol service.
As a consequence, Italy has continued to save capsized and stranded migrant boats heading for its coast.
Italy reported 170,000 migrant arrivals in 2014, up four-fold, while some 3,200 people died trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The situation has deteriorated in recent months, putting the EU under pressure to do more.
The human rights group Amnesty International said it did not believe the new EU aid provided a "concrete solution" to the crisis in the Mediterranean.
"A European solution to the search and rescue crisis is urgently needed, but that's not being offered here. Member states need to step up and chip in.
"Extending operation Triton without increasing its assets and operational area changes absolutely nothing," said Iverna McGowan, an acting director for Amnesty.
Human rights groups have also been critical about the limited number of Syrian refugees that are being granted asylum in European countries.