More than 10,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy in just four days as the European Union fails to provide a deterrent by sending back those found not to be genuine refugees.
EU leaders will today be presented with figures that show as few as six per cent of those told go back home to Africa last year actually left.
Calm seas have led to a surge in the number of people departing from the North African coast in overcrowded boats heading for Europe.
The migrants were picked up from 25 rubber dinghies and one wooden boat that were all less than 35 miles from the Libyan coast.
Coastguard and naval vessels transferred them to southern Italian ports. The latest rescues push to more than 66,000 the number of mostly African migrants to arrive in Italy since the start of 2016, according to figures compiled by the UN refugee agency.
At a summit in Brussels this afternoon, leaders will be told they need to ‘speed up and increase’ returns of economic migrants in order to deter even more from coming.
They will be shown official figures that show only a small proportion of rejected migrants last year actually ended up leaving the EU.
Among the top 10 nationalities of arrivals into Italy, more than 55,000 migrants were told to go back, but only 10,440 or 19 per cent, were returned, the data from the EU’s official statistics agency Eurostat shows.
Only six per cent of those from Guinea went back, seven per cent from Sudan, eight per cent from Eritrea, 11 per cent from Mali, and 12 per cent from Somalia.
The criticism comes after the EU’s border agency chief admitted its search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean has encouraged thousands of migrants to attempt to get to Europe.
Frontex director Klaus Roesler said the naval mission that picks up migrants off the North African coast and ferries them for the rest of the journey to Italy had ‘triggered departures’.
He forecast 10,000 people would make the crossing every week for the rest of this year leading to a total of around 300,000.
EU foreign ministers have agreed to extend Operation Sophia until at least July next year and to expand its remit to helping train Libyan coastguards.
The mission has been accused by critics of descending into a ferry service that has turned the route into a ‘magnet for migrants’.
Smugglers are setting off from the North African coast in boats with only enough fuel to get them into international waters.
After reaching the high seas they telephone rescuers asking for help knowing they will be picked up by EU ships that take them the rest of the journey to Italy.
A cross-party Lords report last month warned that the search-and-rescue operation acts as a ‘magnet to migrants and eases the task of smugglers, who would only need their vessels to reach the high seas’.
‘The mission does not…in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route,’ it said.
‘There are also significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling.’
Earlier this month the Libyan coastguard said the EU was enticing migrants to their deaths off its shores.
Besides rescuing migrants from smugglers’ boats, naval vessels in the Mediterranean are also recovering bodies from past shipwrecks on the bottom of the Mediterranean.
The Italian navy yesterday brought six migrants’ bodies to Sicily that were found near the collapsed wreck of a boat that sank on 5 August 2015.
When that shipwreck happened, an Irish naval vessel took on 373 survivors and 26 bodies that were immediately recovered.
Prosecutors had asked the Italian navy to try to locate the sunken wreck and retrieve any more bodies.