Page last updated at 20:37 GMT, Monday, 4 April 2011 21:37 UK

MEPs debate 'human tragedy' of Lampedusa refugee crisis

The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean following the conflicts in north Africa has been described as a "human tragedy".

Maltese Labour MEP John Attard-Montalto made the claim during a debate on 4 April 2011 on the influx of migrants from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

More than 20,000 refugees have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, with significantly large numbers also landing in Malta.

Mr Attard-Montalto said the EU "always reacted, and never acted".

His call for action was backed by British Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford who blamed EU member states for the lack of a decent European migration system.

Italian officials say that overcrowding has created unhygienic conditions.

The majority of the migrants are Tunisians, and almost 2,000 have now been transferred to a temporary refugee camp on the Italian mainland.

Funding mobilised

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has complained about the handling of the crisis by the EU and is calling for more financial assistance.

However speaking during the debate, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said €25m had been mobilised under the European Refugee Fund and that the Commission was ready to consider further urgent requests.

However Dutch right-wing MEP Daniel Van Der Stoëp said the refugee crisis was the responsibility of the African Union and the Arab League.

He said asylum seekers should be "sent back without any further ado".

A vote on a resolution calling for urgent action to tackle the crisis will be voted on during the daily voting session from 11am on 5 April 2011.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

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