Coffin-carrying migrants march on European Council

“I am an undocumented immigrant, like many of the people here, and we are here to tell the European Parliament and the European Parliamentarians that the situation is a problem they created and they can solve it. So we want them to save these people that are dying in the Mediterranean sea.”

Doudou is an illegal immigrant from Gambia who, with about 1,000 other protesters, has a very clear message to Europe and its leaders.

Like him, many other migrants marched the streets of Brussels with wooden coffins, holding a symbolic funeral for those 900 migrants who lost their lives in the Mediterranean sea on Sunday. Their boat sank on a desperate journey from Libya to a better life in Europe. Only 28 people were rescued.

In the margins of an emergency meeting of European leaders in Brussels, NGOs and civil society called on the EU to set up a multi-country humanitarian operation and to open up borders.

“We need to see an opening up of land borders, so people have access to asylum. We need to see a dramatic increase of resettlement of refugees, issuing of humanitarian visas and also a more liberal approach to family unification, but first and foremost this week, we need an immediate reinstatement of a full-scale search and rescue in the central Mediterranean,” McGowan added.

Leaders are likely to agree to double the cash and equipment available to two EU border patrol missions in the Mediterranean.

But for activists the EU response to the spiraling death toll in the Mediterranean is simply not enough.

“We are very concerned to reports that what it’s on the table from European leaders is nothing but doubling the financing of Triton,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“This will not save lives. What we need to see is a fully-fledged humanitarian operation in the high seas, with adequate assets covering the full area that is needed. Nothing else will do.”

Many have blamed the current crisis on the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation, which was replaced last year with a much smaller programme.

The death toll in the Mediterranean has risen to around 1,750 so far this year. In 2014, only 100 migrants died when a similar number attempted to cross the sea.

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