An international human rights group called on the European Union to "maintain robust search-and-rescue operations" for migrants seeking asylum, as thousands of asylum seekers cross the Mediterranean and Europe struggles to develop a new policy for coping with them.
Human Rights Watch released a report calling on European Union leaders to prioritize human rights when they approach the migrant question at a summit next week.
The rights group said it has interviewed 150 recently arrived migrants on Italian and Greek islands, which are major destinations for people fleeing the Middle East and Africa for Europe.
It said many of the migrants say they are trying to escape human rights abuses in their home countries.
There also has been a recent spike in migrants making the risky trip across the sea.
Observers said worsening conditions in lawless Libya, the North African staging place for many migrant journeys, are to blame. Many of the migrants come from Syria, Nigeria, Mali and Eritrea, fleeing war, political persecution and economic woes.
“The majority of those crossing the Mediterranean are taking terrible risks because they have to, not because they want to,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“Saving lives and increasing safe pathways into Europe should be the EU’s priorities, while ensuring that all cooperation with countries of origin and transit countries respects international human rights standards," Sunderland added.
Italy has sought relief from sheltering the migrants, asking other EU members for help.
The EU has pressed its members to share the responsibility, but some members are opposed to taking in the migrants.