Lampedusa mayor says EU snubs migrants

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Lampedusa is a key entry point for migrants travelling by boat to Europe. Photo: Italian coast guard press office/AFP
17:37 CEST+02:00
The mayor of Lampedusa on Thursday warned European leaders arriving for a Brussels summit that they must rethink their refugee policy and accused Europe of "looking away" from the suffering of migrants.

The Italian island off which hundreds of Africans drowned in tragedies earlier this month is a key entry point to Europe for refugees seeking a better life.

Mayor Giusi Nicolini was in Brussels to meet European Parliament head Martin Schulz and told reporters: "The European Union's asylum policy has to change.

"Unless Europe's approach to asylum and immigration changes, it won't only be the migrants but the EU that drowns off Lampedusa," Nicolini added.

The mayor said asylum requests should be accepted in EU embassies in the refugees' countries of departure, rather than in the countries where they land under the current system.

"It's shameful to make them swim," she said, repeatedly accusing Europe of "looking away" instead of tackling the question head on.

Earlier this month, 366 people died when their boat caught fire, capsized and sank close to the island.

Migration issues are set to trigger awkward discussions on Friday among EU leaders, some of whom face significant electoral challenges at home from anti-immigrant parties.

Draft conclusions for the summit refer only to a desire to "step up" action to manage better the flow of immigrants into the EU.

The 28-state bloc enshrines a right to freedom of movement for citizens from its member states and has mostly done away with physical internal national borders.

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While mainly Mediterranean states and Croatia from the Balkans are pushing for concrete changes to policy and a boost to resources for the long term, diplomats say the larger countries do not want to open what they see as a can of worms ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2014.

Parliament head Schulz said the EU had to "better harmonze" policy right round the bloc.

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