Days after some 300 would-be migrants from North Africa drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as they were trying to reach Italy, the United Nations is calling on the European Union to establish a broader search-and-rescue effort to avoid future tragedies.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres reiterated a call for the EU to expand its current operation, known as Triton, to locate and rescue would-be illegal migrants from Africa.
"There can be no doubt left after this week's events that Europe's Operation Triton is a woefully inadequate replacement for Italy's Mare Nostrum," Guterres said in a statement. Unless something is done, Guterres said, "it is inevitable that many more people will die trying to reach safety in Europe."
The Associated Press notes: "The Italian operation was abandoned after criticism that its aggressive search-and-rescue patrols encouraged migrants. Triton is more focused on protecting borders."
UNHCR says in a statement: "Crossings of the Mediterranean by migrants are age old, but 2014 saw a dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees undertaking this dangerous journey — spurred by conflicts in Syria, the Horn of Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In all at least 218,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,500 lives were lost. "
Italy's operation, launched following a similar tragedy in October 2013 in which 366 people drowned, was credited with rescuing more than 150,000 people fleeing the African coast, but was terminated a year later when Triton was established.