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European Parliament President Urges Action On Migration Crisis


And the enormity of that tragedy is only magnified by the catastrophes that came before. More than 1,500 migrants have already drowned, just since the first of this year, trying to make the crossing. That's a huge spike since last year, partly due to the chaotic state of Libya, where many set out to sea. The president of the European Parliament has put it this way. How many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe? His name is Martin Schulz, and we reached him in Brussels. Welcome.

MARTIN SCHULZ: Thank you much.

MONTAGNE: What should or can Europe do immediately to keep these migrants from dying in the Mediterranean?

SCHULZ: I think we have to undertake three steps. First of all, those who are really risking to lose their lives on sea must be rescued. And therefore, we need an enlargement of the operation of the European Union, more ships, more people available to rescue and to save lives. Secondly, we have to stabilize, especially Libya, because most of the ships are leaving from the Libyan coast. And to do the utmost on the diplomatic end but also on the financial level, to build a government of national unity in Libya, is the second step. And the third step is we must finally come to the conclusion that the European Union needs a well-structured immigration policy with the rights of legal immigration. That is what happens in all immigration areas of the world, in the United States, in Australia, in the Latin American countries. You have not the right of immigration, but the chance to immigrate. And we can't give them a guarantee, but we can give them a hope of legal immigration.

MONTAGNE: And those are huge challenges, especially when you speak about helping to create a unity government in Libya. That is not, honestly, seeming to be very likely anytime soon.

SCHULZ: Yeah, but we must try to do it. The alternative is to continue to look like how the country is running, in anarchy. To give up is the wrong way.

MONTAGNE: A few countries have shouldered more of the burden than others. Clearly, Italy has been leading rescue efforts. Germany has taken in more asylum-seekers than any other country. What can you do, the European Union or leaders in Europe, to make sure all European countries are sharing some part of this burden?

SCHULZ: The European Union is not a federal state; it is a community of sovereign countries. And in the end, how much people are received in a country is not in the hands of the institutions of the union. It is in the hands of the sovereign countries. And here we have the problem that some of these countries don't participate in a fair way in that sharing of burdens, who receives who under which circumstances. And that means that the highest amount of refugees is concentrated in three countries. And this is an unbalanced distribution. And therefore, I hope that on Thursday, when the heads of states and governments are here in Brussels together and discuss the situation, we will come to a better distribution. But I'm not very hopefully. I'm a member of the European Parliament since 1994. And if I could take my speeches from '95 and put the date of today on my speech, I could have the same speech. Nothing has changed in Europe since 20 years about this question of sharing the burdens except that the figures of refugees are increasing.

MONTAGNE: Martin Schulz is president of the European Parliament. He joined us from Brussels. Thank you very much for joining us.

SCHULZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.