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U.N. Calls On EU To Expand Rescue Of Migrants In Mediterranean

Migrants who survived a shipwreck are escorted as they arrive at the Lampedusa harbor on Wednesday. Some 300 others drowned in the latest such disaster triggered by people fleeing conflicts in North Africa.

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.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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