Europe should back action to protect migrants in Mediterranean: EU foreign policy chief

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European governments should support action to protect migrants in the Mediterranean after one of the worst migrant boat disasters at the weekend, European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

As many as 700 people were feared dead after a fishing boat packed with migrants capsized off the Libyan coast overnight. "We have said too many times 'never again'.

Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay," Ms Mogherini, an Italian, said in a statement.

Many EU governments are reluctant to fund rescue operations in the Mediterranean for fear of encouraging more people to make the crossing in search of a better life in Europe.

In indirect criticism of northern EU countries that have so far left rescue operations to southern states such as Italy, Ms Mogherini said: "We need to save human lives all together, as all together we need to protect our borders and to fight the trafficking of human beings." EU foreign ministers will discuss the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg, Ms Mogherini said.

The European Commission, the EU executive, has warned that setting up an EU search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean will take time.

But the Commission said in a statement on Sunday that the situation could no longer be ignored. The Commission said it was consulting with EU governments, European agencies and international organisations to draw up a new migration strategy in May.

Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters on Thursday: "We almost brace ourselves in the knowledge that it will only get worse in the weeks and months to come, notably as the weather improves and the instability and conflict in our neighbourhood endure."