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Dispatches: EU leaders play for time while migrants die

Expectations were perhaps too high, but the disappointment is sharp. Having agreed to discuss migration issues after the October 3 boat disaster in which over 360 people lost their lives off the coast of Lampedusa, EU leaders ended a tw0-day summit proposing to do more of the same, later.

In their concluding joint statement, EU heads of state stressed the need for greater cooperation with countries of origin and transit, cracking down on trafficking and smuggling, reinforcing Frontex, the EU border agency, in the Mediterranean Sea, and a more effective migrant return policy—all in keeping with the “keep ‘em out” approach.

To be fair, the final summit statement does reference the need for states to swiftly implement the EU border surveillance system, which could help improve rescues. And it calls for a “fair sharing of responsibility” and “determined action” to prevent loss of lives at sea.

But we won’t know what that means concretely until a specially created European Commission-led task force reports back in December. And EU leaders won’t take up the issue again until another summit scheduled for June 2014, when boat crossing season will be in full swing once again. Many more may have died in the Mediterranean by then. 

It’s a scandal that even tragedies such as the October 3 sinking have failed to shake the EU into swift action to prevent further deaths. Let’s hope the EU does adopt, as promised, “operational decisions” as soon as possible.

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