Pope Francis urged the European Union Saturday to step up international efforts to help migrants pouring into Italy, as the number crossing into the continent through the Mediterranean Sea nears record levels.
The pope brought up the migrant crisis during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who came into office earlier this year. “It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We must never tire of appealing for a more extensive commitment on the European and international level.”
Francis also thanked the Italian government for its commitment to addressing the influx of migrants in the country. More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in just the past week, many of them fleeing chaos and instability in Libya. Around 450 people are believed to have drowned this week from the perilous trip.
Italy has shouldered most of the burden of undertaking rescue operations at sea and taking in migrants while their refugee or asylum claims are processed. Until last year, Italy ran an operation called Mare Nostrum to search for and rescue migrants found in the water. That gave way to an EU border patrol mission called Triton, which critics say is underfunded and much less robust.
On Thursday, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni accused the European Union of providing an inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis on Italy’s shores.
More than 200,000 people migrated from northern Africa to Europe in 2014, around 170,000 of whom were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Around 3,200 peopled drowned during the journey. This year’s numbers are threatening to keep pace with last year’s record figures and potentially exceed 2014’s death toll. Earlier this week, the UN refugee agency estimated that around 500 people had already died in the Mediterranean this year, a number 30 times higher than the figure from this time last year. That figure didn’t include this week’s 450 additional deaths.
Earlier this week a fight broke out on one of the migrant-smuggling vessels. Muslim migrants reportedly threw 12 Christian migrants overboard, killing them. Italian authorities arrested 15 people in connection with the incident.