BRUSSELS (AP) — Amnesty International is urging European nations to launch a massive humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean where hundreds of migrants are feared to have drowned in recent weeks.
The human rights group called in a report Wednesday for a multinational effort backed by "naval and aerial resources at a scale commensurate with foreseeable departure trends."
The report said almost 21,000 people had crossed the central Mediterranean this year to April, almost the same number as last year, but that far more had died or disappeared.
European Union leaders are holding crisis talks on migration in Brussels on Thursday.
"Any hope that we have of grasping back the credibility of this region, and human rights, lies in those decisions on Thursday," warned Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty's European Institutions Office.
Amnesty urged leaders to send emergency financial and logistical aid to front-line countries Italy and Malta to boost their search-and-rescue capacity until a multinational operation can be launched.
The group blames the huge death toll on the winding-up of the Italian emergency operation Mare Nostrum last year, and the deployment of an EU border mission that is not meant to do rescue work.
Mare Nostrum worked closer to the Libyan coast, where most boats have been getting into trouble.
Ending that operation, Amnesty said, has left coastguards and civilian merchant vessels to do most of the rescuing, and they are overwhelmed.
Merchant ships are ill-equipped for saving lives and some migrants have drowned or been hurt trying to get aboard.
The group also called on the EU to increase resettlement quotas, allow more humanitarian migrant admissions and extra visas for people who need international protection.