The European director of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) demanded on Tuesday (5 May) clarification of the legal status for migrants in the EU in order to control the massive influx of people smuggled in by boats.
"If we do not create legal ways for people to access protection in Europe for those in need of international protection, people will continue to come by boats," Vincent Cochetel said after a meeting of the interior ministers from the Balkans and central Europe at the co-called Salzburg Forum. "Land borders are closed in Europe, that the only border that is left open is the sea. People will continue coming."
Cochetel said the EU must come up with "legal alternatives" to accommodate the migrants, and fighting human trafficking will not be enough.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann called for the introduction of a EU-wide quota for the intake of asylum seekers, whereby member countries agree to take in more refugees in order to relieve some of the pressure on Italy, Greece and Malta.
Cochetel also said that conditions in which migrants live after arriving to Europe need to improve.
"Reception conditions are not satisfactory in some countries of arrival, there is an unequal distribution of asylum seekers in Europe," he said.
As many as 900 people drowned off the coast of Libya last month when a large boat capsized, by far the highest death toll in modern times among migrants trafficked in rickety vessels across the Mediterranean.
About 1,800 people are estimated to have died during the crossing so far this year, the United Nations' refugee agency has said. Some 51,000 have entered Europe by sea, 30,500 of them via Italy.