EU wants major Mediterranean rescue mission after Lampedusa

LUXEMBOURG (AFP) - The EU's executive will press the 28-nation bloc Tuesday to sharply beef up resources enabling sea patrols across the Mediterranean to help prevent new migrant tragedies such as the Lampedusa shipwreck.

The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said as she went into talks with the bloc's home affairs ministers that she would propose "a big Frontex operation right across the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Spain for a big save and rescue operation." Frontex is the agency set up by the European Union in 2004 to police the bloc's borders against illegal migration.

But the Warsaw-based agency, which coordinates and develops border management and joint operations, has seen its budget fall over the past three years and relies on donations from member states for ships, helicopters and other equipment.

The shipwreck off Lampedusa last week in which more than 300 African asylum-seekers are feared dead is expected to dominate Tuesday's talks between the ministers.

Malmstroem will join European Commmission president Jose Manuel Barroso when he travels to the site of the shipwreck on Wednesday.

Italy has appealed to EU states for help in coping with the refugees washing up on its shore and wants migration issues to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels at the end of the month.

Italy says 30,000 migrants have arrived so far this year - more than four times the number from last year - and complains that other nations, particularly in wealthier northern Europe, should share the burden.

Frontex is reported to have saved 16,000 lives in the Mediterranean over the last two years. Due to crisis-era belt-tightening its budget has slipped from 118 million euros (S$200 million) in 2011 to 90 million in 2012 and 85 this year.

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