Migrants rescued near Lampedusa as EU leaders meet
Italian authorities have intercepted some 800 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean as EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss the problem.
Dozens of women and children were among more than 200 migrants on one boat found in difficulty 25 miles (40km) south of the island of Lampedusa.
Two other boats were picked up further south of Lampedusa, one with nearly 100 Eritreans reportedly on board.
Hundreds of migrants trying to reach Europe have drowned in recent weeks.
Southern EU states including Italy and Malta have relaunched appeals for more support and resources, prompting the European Commission to call on EU countries to offer "additional and urgent contributions".
The Commission is pressing for:
- Greater resources to survey and patrol sea routes, through its Frontex operation
- Increased co-operation with countries of origin and transit, especially Libya
- The opening of more channels of regular migration
- Moves to spread migrants more evenly across the EU
However, national governments point out there are significant obstacles to some of these ambitions - including the lack of a stable government in Libya.
National leaders are also conscious of strong resistance among many voters to further immigration.
EU sources say the leaders are likely to promise improved co-operation, but not more money or resources.
They say they first want to see a new surveillance effort, Eurosur, come into force, to see what effect that has.
Maria Nicolini, the mayor of Lampedusa, the Italian island where many of the bodies have been brought ashore, was in Brussels on Thursday to lobby EU leaders.
Many of the migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean come from developing countries afflicted by poverty and conflict, such as Syria and Eritrea.
The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea said on Thursday that thousands Eritreans were fleeing their country every month, despite a "shoot-to-kill policy" targeting those attempting to leave.
The envoy, Sheila Keetharuth, said Eritreans were subject to "the most serious human rights violations", including extra-judicial killings, torture and inhumane prison conditions.
She said that according to UN figures, 7,504 Eritreans and 7,557 Syrians had arrived in Italy in the first nine months of the year.
Boats, often operated by trafficking gangs, have been attempting the crossing to Europe for many years.
But the issue was brought the fore earlier this month when more than 350 people - mostly Somalis and Eritreans - died after their boat sank off Lampedusa.