Nearly 2,000 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives attempting the perilous sea crossing from North Africa to Europe in 2015, and it’s not even fully five months into the year.
It’s to try to stem this deadly tide that the European Commission — the European Union’s executive arm — will on Wednesday consider a new migration policy, in an effort to share responsibility across Europe for the mass influx of migrants.
The plan, a draft of which CNN has seen, would include a call for quotas on the number of migrants each EU country would be required to take in, based on population size, gross domestic product and unemployment rate.
The proposals are bound to be controversial, with immigration a hot-button issue in many of the 28 EU member nations.
Germany backs the plans, for example, but the UK government strongly opposes them.
What’s not in question, though, is that something must be done to curb the illegal trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday asked the United Nations to authorize military action to destroy boats used illegally to smuggle people from Africa to Europe.
Many of the migrants are from sub-Saharan Africa and Syria, or are foreign workers who have lost their livelihoods. They know that people-traffickers can take them to Europe from Libyan shores, often arriving in Italy.
But many die at sea. More than 3,400 migrants died in 2014, according to estimates from the U.N refugee agency, many more than in the previous year.
Mogherini: ‘Huge responsibility we all share’
In her speech to the U.N. Security Council, Mogherini said 2015 looked likely to be worse yet. The U.N. refugee agency estimates that close to 2,000 have already died attempting the journey so far this year.
“Our first priority must be to save lives; to prevent the loss of lives at sea. We believe, in the European Union, that this is a huge responsibility we all share, not only as Europeans but also globally,” Mogherini said.
She also assured those listening that “no refugees or migrants intercepted at sea will be sent back against their will” and that their rights under the Geneva Conventions would be respected.
However, UK Home Secretary Theresa May argued in an opinion piece published Wednesday by The Times of London that such quotas would only encourage more people to make the hazardous journey.
And she rejected Mogherini’s position on not sending economic migrants back to their countries of origin.
“The EU should work to establish safe landing sites in North Africa, underpinned by an active programme of returns,” May wrote.
“I disagree with the suggestion by the EU’s high representative, Federica Mogherini, that ‘no migrants’ intercepted at sea should be ‘sent back against their will’.
“Such an approach would only act as an increased pull factor across the Mediterranean and encourage more people to put their lives at risk.”
May also called for differentiation in the way asylum seekers and economic migrants are treated.
“We must distinguish between those genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life,” she wrote.
More than a third of asylum seekers from Syria
According to figures released by Eurostat on Tuesday, 27 EU member states “granted protection status to 185,000 asylum seekers in 2014, up by almost 50% compared with 2013.” No figures were available for Austria.
Of those asylum seekers whose claims were accepted, 37% — or 68,400 people — were from war-torn Syria. Germany and Sweden between them took in 60% of those asylum seekers.
Eritrea and Afghanistan were the next most common countries of origin, with their citizens each making up 8% of those granted asylum.
Others came from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Pakistan and Russia.