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EU leaders tackle Mediterranean migrant emergency

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Brussels, April 23 - European Union leaders met
Thursday to discuss the Mediterranean migrant crisis at an
emergency summit that Italian Premier Matteo Renzi pressed for
following last weekend's boat disaster in which over 700 people
are feared to have died.
Just prior, Renzi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President
Francois Hollande in a four-way summit.
The 28 leaders then observed a minute of silence in memory
of the hundreds of drowning victims before beginning their
debate, from which the biggest novelty likely to emerge is a
decision to triple the funding for the EU's Triton marine patrol
mission.
Sources have said the summit will also decide to widen its
"range of action" - but without changing its mandate.
The Triton operation, run by the EU border agency Frontex,
took over from Italy's bigger and better-funded Mare Nostrum
search-and-rescue operation last November.
But it was given a different mandate from Mare Nostrum,
focusing on patrol and rescue rather than search and rescue.
Critics - including Amnesty International and the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - have slammed Operation
Triton as failing to meet the rescue demands of the thousands of
people pouring into Europe each year via Italy's southernmost
shores, many of them fleeing war in Africa and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the 28 member States squabbled
over how to redistribute the rescued migrants and asylum
seekers, who are being largely hosted by Italy, Greece, and
Malta.
The UK has already made known it will help out with the
logistics, but not with the migrant themselves.
"We offer...the Royal Navy's Bulwark helicopter carrier,
three helicopters and two patrol boats, on condition those saved
be taken to the nearest safe country - probably Italy - and that
they won't request asylum in the UK," British Prime Minister
David Cameron said just before the summit.
Also on Thursday, European Parliament President Martin
Schulz said EU leaders must commit more to sea rescues and less
to a militarized solution.
"I don't see how the military can neutralized (people
traffickers') boats" which should be an international policing
matter, Shulz said.
On the humanitarian front, "we need far larger financial
commitments, ships and manpower than those currently being
debated...we need an intervention in the style of Mare Nostrum"
- Italy's search-and-rescue operation that saved tens of
thousands of lives between October 2013 and October 2014.
"I hope this (emergency) council will bring about results
in this direction," he said.

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