The only sustainable means of saving the lives of migrants struggling to reach Europe is to provide legal routes which will allow people to move, the EU home affairs commissioner said on Tuesday. Thousands of migrants die each year trying to reach Europe by boat.
The number of asylum claims in Europe last year reached levels seen during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis when more than a million refugees came to the continent.
The EU's home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the bloc had to offer legal routes to Europe after she was asked about recent shipwrecks in the Mediterranean that left at least 100 dead or missing in two weeks, off Italy and Libya.
"This is the only sustainable solution to save lives, and saving lives must always be our first priority," she told reporters in Strasbourg.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, announced Tuesday how it plans to manage the EU's external borders and stressed the importance of better cooperation between member states and EU agencies, especially the border agency Frontex.
'Saving lives in the Mediterranean'
"I would lie if I say that the proposals would solve everything when it comes to the problems of saving lives in the Mediterranean," Johansson admitted.
"The only sustainable way to save lives is to avoid the smugglers who successfully sell these very expensive, extremely dangerous journeys to desperate people, and to invest in legal pathways."
She added: "We need migration in the European Union. We are lacking labour forces in many areas."
Johansson said it was urgent for member states to adopt the proposals on asylum and migration presented by the commission in 2020 to address the issue.
Asked about claims by Italy's defence minister that Russian paramilitary group Wagner encouraged migration to Europe, Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said "the root cause of migration is that people move to make better lives or to escape war and persecution".
The two EU officials also criticised the UK government's controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
"This is not our Europe. This is not the European way of life," Schinas said.