European Union nations are struggling to confront the challenge of the unprecedented numbers of migrants coming across the Mediterranean and have few answers to contain the humanitarian catastrophe highlighted by reports that 400 people drowned this week.

Driven chiefly by poverty and conflict, some 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers have sought to sneak into the EU over just the past week and the European nations have no clear response ready.

The spring crossing season will inflate those figures over the weeks to come, yet there are no emergency EU meetings planned or proposals ready to be implemented.

The EU's top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, warned this week that these tragic scenes are "unfortunately the new norm and we will need to adjust our responses accordingly."