European Union leaders have reached a deal aimed at controlling the number of migrants and refugees trying to enter Europe.
A hard-fought, but vaguely worded deal was struck early yesterday after more than nine hours of negotiations at an EU summit in Brussels.
Leaders agreed that “controlled centres” should be set up in member states on a voluntary basis for “rapid and secure” processing to distinguish between irregular migrants and refugees eligible for asylum.
It was not yet clear which countries would host the centres.
Relocation and resettlement from the centres would also happen on a voluntary basis, the joint statement said, suggesting countries will not be required to take in people.
The leaders agreed to increase funding for Turkey and freed up 500 million euros ($581m) in funding for North Africa.
A joint statement asked to “swiftly explore” the concept of “regional disembarkation platforms” where migrants and refugees would be processed in third countries “to eliminate the incentive to embark on perilous journeys” .
The agreement calls on all member states to “take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures” to counter movement of asylum seekers within the EU while the 28 countries agreed to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea.
After the announcement of the deal, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Today Italy is no longer alone”.
Italy had threatened to veto any deal if fellow EU leaders failed to do more to help the country, where a large share of incoming migrants and refugees arrive.
When asked about his view on the agreement, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, who campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform, said “let’s see the concrete commitments”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the EU still had “a lot of work to do to bridge the different views”.
Merkel was given an ultimatum by her interior minister to reach a European deal on migration at the summit or face unilateral action that explicitly went against her wishes, in a political crisis that threatened to bring an early end to her fourth coalition government.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed the agreement as a “first positive step towards more solidarity”.
Reporting from Brussels, Laurence Lee called the deal a “win for the hardliners”.
“What it does is appease Italy,” he said, adding that it also takes the “pressure off Angela Merkel”.
In recent weeks, vessels with rescued migrants and refugees on board have been left stranded in the Mediterranean after they were barred from docking.
On Wednesday, humanitarian ship Lifeline docked in Malta after eight countries had agreed to take a share of the refugees and migrants on board.
Earlier in June, hundreds of migrants and refugees arrived in Spain after the vessels that rescued them were turned away by both Italy and Malta. The political crisis over migrants comes amid a steep decline in the amount of people arriving on Europe’s shores.
The United Nations’ refugee agency has said it expects about 80 000 people to arrive by sea this year, which is about half the number that arrived in 2017. In 2015, more than a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe.
“It really is this engineered panic,” Judith Sunderland, an associate director at Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, said.
On Friday, EU leaders will reconvene to discuss Brexit and the eurozone.
Meanwhile, over 500 women including a member of Congress were arrested on Thursday in the US Capitol complex protesting President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy that has triggered thousands of family separations at the border with Mexico.
US Capitol police said 575 people conducting a sit-down protest in the atrium of a Senate office building were charged with unlawfully demonstrating, then processed at the scene and released.
Many of those detained were singing and shouting slogans, and were clad in silver, mylar-style emergency blankets similar to those being provided to children in detention centres.
House Democrat Pramila Jayapal was among those arrested.
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Reports that the US government can’t locate nearly 1 500 unaccompanied immigrant children that it placed in care are causing outrage. Protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building unfurled banners that read: “End all detention camps” and “Families belong together in freedom”.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand posted video of the demonstration, saying the women were protesting “this inhumane policy by the Trump administration to separate families at the border”.
Trump and Congress have struggled to resolve a crisis that has seen more than 2 000 children separated from their migrant parents since the administration announced a “zero tolerance” border policy in early May.
The policy calls for strict adherence to laws which require that anyone caught crossing illegally be arrested and referred for prosecution.
Trump called a halt to the separations recently following an international outcry and criticism from Democrats as well as some Republicans, but Congress has failed to resolve the crisis and it has dragged on.
“What the administration is doing right now is morally wrong, it is inhumane, and it has to stop,” Gillibrand said. — AFP