* Sea rescue operation costs Italy 9 million euros a month
* Member states must contribute more assets - EU's Malmstrom
* EU considering "scaled-down" version of Italy's operation
By Steve Scherer and Ilaria Polleschi
MILAN, July 8 Italy is in talks with other
European Union states about sharing the burden of rescuing
migrants crossing the Mediterranean in crowded boats from North
Africa, senior officials meeting in Milan said on Tuesday.
So far this year, more than 63,000 migrants have arrived in
Italy by sea, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR),
surpassing the previous record of around 62,000 set in the whole
of 2011, the year of the "Arab Spring" uprisings.
But more than 500 have died trying to make the perilous sea
crossing, including 12 on Sunday when their boat capsized off
the coast of the Libyan Tripoli, the UNHCR said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano
repeated a call for Europe's border control agency Frontex to
take over Italy's mission, known as Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea"
and costing the navy 9 million euros ($12.28 million) a month.
After meeting with EU interior ministers in Milan, EU Home
Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that she was
discussing with Alfano what was needed for a "scaled-down"
version of Mare Nostrum.
But she warned that Frontex alone would not be enough and
that member states would have to contribute directly, and there
was as yet no time frame for a possible EU substitution of
"Frontex is a small agency and cannot take over Mare Nostrum
tomorrow. We will need more assets from the member states and
that's why we are asking Italy to sit together with us to try to
identify exactly what would be needed," she said.
"Frontex can do a lot, but we do not have the means to
totally substitute (Mare Nostrum) unless all other member
countries also contribute with vessels or helicopters or staff
Italy's navy has been patrolling the waters between Africa
and Sicily since October, when 366 people drowned after their
boat capsized just a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
That tragedy focused international attention on the
desperate risks taken by many migrants, whose plight has been
highlighted by human rights groups and Pope Francis.
Though about two-thirds of those who are rescued move on
quickly to other EU countries, member states have so far offered
Italy little help with Mare Nostrum, and Frontex has provided
only limited air surveillance.
Italy - along with Spain, Greece and Malta - have been left
mostly on their own to manage the growing number of migrants who
seek to enter the EU in boats departing from North Africa,
partly because increasing anti-immigrant sentiment in countries
like Britain and France makes it unpopular to help out.
Most of the migrants who reached Italy by sea last year were
refugees fleeing Syria's civil war and Eritrea's harsh military
service, and the trend has continued this year, according to the
UNHCR. Of the 12 confirmed dead on Tuesday, three were Syrian
and three Eritrean.
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Isla Binnie in Rome; Editing by Mark