BRUSSELS — The European Union must quickly adapt to the growing numbers of migrants trying to reach its shores, the EU's top migration official said Tuesday, as new figures showed that more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from the Mediterranean in the last four days.
"The unprecedented influx of migrants at our borders, and in particular refugees, is unfortunately the new norm and we will need to adjust our responses accordingly," the EU's commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told lawmakers in Brussels.
More than 280,000 people entered the European Union illegally last year. Many came from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia and made the perilous sea journey from conflict-torn Libya.
European coast guards have been overwhelmed by the numbers. As the weather has begun to warm, even more people have been fleeing conflict and poverty for better lives in Europe.
Of the 7,000 migrants saved in the Mediterranean since Friday, "over 3,500 are still on board rescue vessels and being taken to Italy and so far, 11 bodies were recovered," EU migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said.
Meanwhile the EU's Frontex border agency said that people smugglers trying to recover a wooden boat that had been carrying migrants had fired shots into the air to warn away a coast guard vessel.
The incident on Monday happened some 60 nautical miles off the coast of Libya after an Italian tugboat and the coast guard ship came to the rescue of 250 migrants.
The coast guard vessel was already carrying 342 migrants from a previous rescue.
It's at least the second incident of this kind, raising concern for the safety of rescue workers and migrants alike.
Late next month, Avramopoulos is expected to unveil a new EU strategy aimed at tackling the migrant wave.
Raf Casert in Brussels and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.