Australia and European officials contact over the Mediterranean migrant crisis

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott says there has been “contact” between Australia and European officials over the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Mr Abbott said contact was at an “official level”, however an EU spokeswoman said she was unaware of it.

Europe has recently seen a sharp increase in deaths among migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

Mr Abbott has said Europe should follow the Australian example and stop boats before they reach European waters.

Under Australia’s controversial Operation Sovereign Borders any migrant boat approaching its territory is intercepted and sent back.

Migrants who reach Australian waters are detained offshore in centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. No-one is given asylum in Australia.

After touring a maritime security operations centre in Canberra, Mr Abbott was asked by reporters on Monday if Europe had approached Australia for advice.

He said that “there has been some contact at official level between Australian people and Europeans,” without giving further details.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters in Brussels that EU officials had not contacted Australia’s authorities and had no intention of following its example.

As the EU applied a principle of not sending back victims of persecution to countries where they might be threatened, “the Australian method can thus never be an example for us”, she said.

At least 1,750 people have died this year trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014 when 96 people died.

Over the weekend, more than 5,800 migrants were rescued and 10 bodies recovered off the Libyan coast, the Italian coastguard says.

In April more than 800 people died when their boat from Libya sank while crossing over to Italy.

That prompted an emergency meeting among European Union officials, who have since promised increased funding for rescue operations and tougher action on smugglers’ boats.

Australia argues its policy saves lives at sea by deterring people smugglers, but critics say it is unethical.

In 2013 some 300 boats carrying illegal migrants reached Australia. In 2014, after the operation was launched, the number was just one.

Australia’s policy was “an object lesson in how to do the right thing by everyone”, including Australians and migrants, Mr Abbott said.

“If you want to keep life safe, you’ve got to keep the boats stopped.”

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