The world needs to act together on the refugee crisis gripping Europe, and not leave the continent to battle the problem alone, European Council president Donald Tusk said yesterday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Japan, Tusk said European nations needed help in dealing with the tide of people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa.
"We are aware that it is because of geography that the most responsibility is, and will continue to be, placed on Europe," Tusk told reporters at Ise-Shima, 300km southwest of Tokyo.
"However, we would also like the global community to show solidarity and recognise that this is a global crisis."
The desperation of those trying to reach Europe was illustrated in a series of images released by the Italian navy yesterday. At least seven people died when a crowded boat carrying migrants headed for Europe capsized off the coast of Libya yesterday. The Italian navy said it was able to rescue about 500 people from the sea.
North Africa has re-emerged as a major route for those trying to make it to Europe from the Middle East and Africa, largely thanks to stricter border controls in the Balkans and a deal with Turkey that closed off a major route through Eastern Europe.
Many willing to risk a journey now head to Libya, just 160km across the Mediterranean from Rome, where they pay smugglers large sums for a space on a boat. At least 25,000 migrants have reached the shores of Italy from North Africa in 2014, officials said last month.
Meanwhile, about 1.3 million refugees, coming mostly from the conflict-ridden countries of Syria and Iraq last year, asked for asylum in the European Union - more than a third of them in Germany.
So far this year, the International Organisation for Migration says an estimated 190,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain. More than 1300 are known to have died en route.
The European Union has put in place a programme aimed at redistributing a first group of 140,000 people throughout the 28 member states.
"The world has been confronted with the highest number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons since World War II," said Tusk.
"Those who criticise Europe should rather think how to increase their assistance because what Europe provides is already massive."
Tusk, who is at the G7 with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said he would be asking leaders to get behind a worldwide solution.
First, he said, the world needed "to commit to increasing global assistance so that immediate and long-term needs of refugees and host communities are met".
"The international community should acknowledge that when Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan assist refugees, they are in fact providing a global public route."
Secondly, he said, the G7 should encourage international financial institutions and other donors to boost their contributions.
"In this regard, the EU fund for Syria, Africa and Turkey, along with the work of the European investment bank, serves as a role model for all of us.
"Third, that the G7 encourages the establishment of resettlement schemes and other legal forms of migration all around the world."
- AFP, Washington Post