During a meeting of European Union leaders on Thursday, where migration was on the agenda, Donald Tusk, the former prime minister of Poland and current European Council president, spoke out against obligatory relocation quotas for refugees and migrants. He noted that the divide on the issue was largely geographic, between eastern and western member states.
“These divisions are accompanied by emotions which make it hard to find even a common language and rational arguments for this debate,” Mr. Tusk said.
The Aegean rescue also came the same day that a task force of officials from the European Union, African Union, the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration met in Brussels to discuss deteriorating conditions for migrants inside Libya.
The cross-Mediterranean route from Libya is how the largest number of migrants are currently trying to make their way to Europe, and they are vulnerable to smugglers with little regard for safety. Thousands have been stranded in the North African nation, with reports that some are being sold as slaves. The task force aims to resettle those left in limbo in Libya.
Around 3,100 migrants have been given assistance to return to their home countries from Libya since Nov. 28 as part of an emergency, voluntary operation organized by the task force, according to a news release from the group.
The task force aims to provide assistance for an additional 15,000 migrants in Libya to be returned to their home countries by February 2018.
“It is — I believe — a turning point in our work to save and protect lives of migrants, in particular inside Libya but also along the route, and dismantling the traffickers networks,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement following the meeting.