Can Europe Cope With Flood of Migrants?

This past week roaming the Mediterranean with the Italian navy has exposed two things for me.

The boat was overloaded with migrants, most of whom were refugees from Syria

One – the sheer professionalism and dedication of the navy. Their job is a difficult one. Saving lives at sea, even with all the resources they have, is not always possible.

But that is their mission. It is not a foregone conclusion that they will make it to a ship in distress in time. Our 16-hour speed across from the Libyan coast to east of Malta showed that.

Merchant ships can carry out rescues of course, and do. But the navy is best equipped to deal with the difficulties of moving scared, exhausted people between vessels in the middle of the sea. They are saving lives every day.

The second thing that is clear is that Europe’s policy-makers need to get a grip of the situation.

Tweet by the BBC's Matthew Price

In tweets: Migrants rescued by Italian navy

The UN refugee agency this week revealed that the number of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty around the world is at levels not seen since World War II.

It says richer countries need to do more to help refugees – that poorer nations are shouldering more than their fair share of the task.

Europe has seen tens of thousands arrive this year, and – as word spreads that the Italian navy is actively rescuing people at sea – more will presumably be tempted to come.

Moral imperative

Italy cannot cope on its own. Its asylum system is already under strain.

But can Europe deal with the people who are arriving? Their numbers are not that huge compared with a population in the EU of 500 million.

But anti-immigration sentiment is rising across the bloc. Politicians are campaigning on closing the doors, not opening them.

Where does this leave those who are coming because life elsewhere is simply so difficult and dangerous?

Equally, how to address the legitimate concerns that public services in some areas are already over burdened?

It’s clear there is a moral imperative to save lives.

All of the migrants I spoke to were fleeing war – not coming here because they wanted to leave their homes. They want to return to those homes when it’s safe to do so.

Can Europe, will Europe make them welcome?