WARSAW, Poland — Recent tragedies involving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean show that Europe must do more to stop migration by people seeking to escape poverty, the head of the European Union's border agency said Monday.
Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri told The Associated Press in an interview that Europe should accept people fleeing political persecution in their countries. But he said it should make clear that those who come seeking economic opportunity will be sent home.
"The message that must be conveyed is that people in need for protection, of course, must be accepted in Europe, in European Union," Leggeri, who is French, said in English. "But people who are irregular migrants, they don't have any right to settle here and if they come illegally, what would happen is that they will be returned back to their country. So they would waste their money, be victims of traffickers, and, anyway — will be sent back to their country."
Italy, which has borne the brunt of the recent influx, has appealed for assistance and European Union leaders are meeting this week to discuss solutions. Hundreds of migrants are feared dead in shipwrecks and at least 10,000 more have been rescued in the last week.
Leggeri, whose agency is based in Warsaw, said Europe should also send people back to counter the smugglers who lure them with promises of safe passage.
"If we can increase the number of return flights," he said, the information will spread and "this would show that the traffickers are liars and that it is not possible to reach so easily to the European Union for people who in fact are not asylum seekers."
Migrants crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing conflict, repression and poverty in countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia.