LAMPEDUSA, Italy — The head of the European Commission announced Wednesday during a visit to Lampedusa that Italy will get an additional $40 million in EU funds to help settle and receive new refugees, after the sinking of a migrant boat off the Sicilian island killed at least 297 people.
Officials also announced that migration would be on the agenda of the European leaders’ summit Oct. 24-25 and would have a priority place in the 2014 EU agenda, which Greece and Italy will spearhead during their presidencies.
‘‘The EU cannot accept that thousands of people die at its borders,’’ Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said. ‘‘The challenges that Lampedusa and Italy are facing are European challenges.’’
The European Union has long taken a back seat regarding border security and asylum policies, leaving the problem primarily to its member states. But last week’s sinking of a smuggler’s boat carrying 500 migrants came as a bitter wake-up call to European officials that more cooperation will be needed to avert further tragedies of that scale. That will include more assistance to the countries most affected by the influx of refugees from Africa, specifically Italy, Greece, and Spain.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta stressed that unlike the economic migrants who flocked to Italy in the 1990s, the new arrivals are primarily political refugees fleeing persecution — and that shift requires a change in mentality on how they should be received and integrated in Europe.
Lampedusans have long complained that they have been forgotten by Italy and the EU, left to cope alone with thousands of migrants each year.
Barroso acknowledged that Italy and other southern Mediterranean countries have borne the brunt of the arrivals, but noted that northern European countries such as Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, and Belgium actually get the bulk of asylum-seekers for permanent settlement. Those countries took 72 percent of the 330,000 asylum applications in the EU in 2012.