Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 of the 100,000 people this year appealed for help after being unable to cope with the numbers.
Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 of the 100,000 people this year appealed for help after being unable to cope with the numbers.

EU interior ministers on Thursday pledged to back an urgent European Commission plan to help crisis-hit Italy, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of migrants arriving by sea from North Africa.

Ministers from across the bloc gathered in the Estonian capital Tallinn after Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 of the 100,000 people who have arrived this year, appealed desperately for help.

At the close of the talks, ministers issued a rare written statement, saying: "The situation in the Central Mediterranean and the resulting pressure on Italy is of great concern to all member states."

TRT World's Sarah Firth has this report.

Italy won't stand alone

The move was hailed by Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

"There has been a recognition of the question raised by Italy," he said of the talks that were chaired by Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

"Italy is not alone and will not have to act on its own," Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt told reporters after the meeting.

In recent weeks, Italy has stepped up calls for help, pleading with its European partners to make a "concrete contribution" by opening their ports to rescue ships to share the burden.

At the end of June, Italy threatened to stop vessels from other countries disembarking rescued migrants at its ports.

The influx has exacerbated tensions with neighbouring Austria, which this week threatened to send troops to its border with Italy to stop migrants entering.

Central to Thursday's talks was a European Commission plan which earmarks 35 million euros ($40 million) in aid for Rome as well as proposals for working with Libya and other countries to stem the flow of migrants.

Fomenting a plan

While no new measures were adopted at the meeting, ministers expressed support for a "plan of action" presented on Tuesday by the European Commission which puts in place, "better and more quickly," certain elements previously agreed upon, according to a European source.

They include a joint-rescue coordination centre which would improve rescue efforts with Libya's coastguard and offer it better training and equipment.

It also includes a plan to help Libya strengthen control over its porous southern border while working with Egypt, Niger, Ethiopia and Sudan to improve the repatriation process for migrants who don't meet the criteria for international protection.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies