The European Union has doubled the emergency aid to frontline member states Italy, Greece and Malta which have to deal with the massive influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean to 50 million euros ($54 million) a year.
EU Commission spokeswoman Natasha Berthaud said “the entire emergency fund is doubling” following an agreement at Thursday’s EU summit where leaders also pledged ships, aircraft and equipment to save lives in the Mediterranean after the deaths at sea of more than 1,300 migrants over the past three weeks.
The funds can be used for reception centers of migrants, medical aid or additional staff dealing with the influx. It is part of an overall EU fund for migration and asylum issues.
At Thursday’s summit, the leaders also agreed to triple funding to 9 million euros ($9.7 million) a month for the EUs border operation patrolling the Mediterranean.
At the same time Bertaud said the EU border agency Frontex is to send its ships further into the Mediterranean Sea in response to the deadly exodus from Libya.
EU leaders on Thursday pledged to double the size of Frontex’s Triton mission and triple its budget but refused to allow it to do active search and rescue work.
Critics say Triton is ineffective in dealing with the migrant influx because its mandate restricts its border control tasks to 30 nautical miles from land and does not allow it to approach the Libyan coast.
Bertaud said a new operational plan for Triton will be agreed with Italian authorities and that this “will be ready in the coming days.”
Amnesty International said any failure to extend Triton’s area of operations would undermine the fresh EU pledges of ships, aircraft and other resources.
The UN refugee agency said “it’s crucial that everyones focus is on saving lives, including in the Libyan search and rescue area, which is where most of the distress calls tend to come from.”
Some aid groups complained that the leaders failed to find other ways for people to reach Europe safely.
“Without these alternatives, declaring war on smugglers is declaring war on the very same people the member states say their priority is to save,” said Aurelie Ponthieu, adviser on migration at Doctors Without Borders.