- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

LUXEMBOURG (Agence France-Presse) — The European Union expressed determination yesterday to save the lives of African migrants desperate to reach its shores but struggled to find ways to help front-line state Malta handle the problem.

The island EU nation, with a population of around 400,000, has rescued some 7,000 people in waters off its coast in the past five years, with scores picked up — some clinging to tuna farm cages, others dead — in May alone.

“We cannot tolerate people dying,” German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaueble, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of the month, told reporters after hosting talks with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“We’re not leaving Malta high and dry,” he said.

Mr. Schaueble said that “suggestions on a system of sharing of responsibilities will be discussed” by experts from the 27 European nations next week.

“It was the most reasonable thing we could obtain today,” he conceded.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, meanwhile, urged the ministers to make good on promises to provide ships and aircraft to the bloc’s external border agency Frontex.

Malta is to receive help patrolling its vast area of maritime surveillance when the agency begins operation “Nautilus” on June 25, in which France, Greece, Germany and Italy will also participate, until October.

Earlier, Maltese Interior Minister Tonio Borg appealed to his partners for help.

“The situation right now is a complete mess; it’s a free-for-all,” he said. “Each year 600 immigrants are dying … on the threshold of Europe. The figure could rise again this year.”

Several boats with illegal migrants from Africa have recently capsized in the waters between the Mediterranean island and Libya, and rescue efforts have been complicated by fights over which country is responsible.

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