The UN gave a cautious welcome on Friday to a migration deal reached by European Union leaders, while urging member states to share responsibility and help frontline countries led by Italy.
“We will welcome any outcome that leads to a more collaborative and harmonised approach to asylum, also one that has at its core and priority saving lives at sea,” Charlie Yaxley of the UN refugee agency UNHCR told a Geneva briefing.
Also, Leonard Doyle of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration said that “any solution needs to
be a European solution”.
“We are not talking about external processing centers, that is the key point. These centres should be in Europe,” he said, adding that disembarkation points should not be located in Libya due to insecurity and lawlessness.
European leaders reached the deal on migration in the early hours of Friday, but the pledges made to strengthen borders were vague, and a bleary-eyed German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded differences remained.
After nine hours of often stormy talks, EU leaders agreed to share out refugees arriving in the bloc on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centers” inside the European Union to process asylum requests.
They also agreed to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, a key demand of Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.
“Italy is not alone anymore,” he said.
Conte, whose government includes the anti-establishment Five-Star movement and far-right League, had earlier
refused to endorse a summit text on security and trade until other leaders had pledged to help Italy manage Mediterranean arrivals.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose far right League party campaigned to bar migrants fleeing Africa and expel those already in Italy, welcomed the deal, saying Italy had obtain 70 per cent of what it had been seeking.
“Let’s see the concrete commitments,” Salvini said in a radio interview.
The summit underscored how Europe’s 2015 spike in immigration continues to haunt the bloc, despite a sharp
drop in arrivals of people fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa.
It took place in an atmosphere of political crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel under intense political
pressure at home to take a firmer stance on migration.
Merkel, speaking to reporters at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT), sought to put a positive spin on the result, saying it was a good signal that leaders had been able to agree a common text.
But she acknowledged the bloc still had “a lot of work to do to bridge the different views.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sharply criticised Italy for refusing to allow a migrant rescue ship into its ports, said European cooperation had “won the day”.
In a final statement full of convoluted language designed to satisfy the divergent views, the leaders agreed to restrict migrant moves within the bloc but made clear virtually all of their pledges would be carried out on a “voluntary basis” by member states.
They also agreed to tighten their external border and increase financing for Turkey, Morocco and other North
African states to prevent migration to Europe.
Merkel’s coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has threatened to shut Bavaria’s border to migrants – something that could trigger the collapse of her three-month-old government as well as the EU’s Schengen free-travel zone – gave the summit deal a cautious welcome.
CSU lawmaker Hans Michelbach told ARD television areas of the deal would be “difficult to implement” and that Merkel would have to discuss it with CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, in the coming days.
But he underlined the importance of the CSU’s ties with Merkel’s CDU: “We want to work together. The alliance with the CDU has absolute priority”.
Diplomats described a tense, tortured meeting with small groups of leaders huddled together in a desperate bid to break the deadlock and avert the humiliation of heading home without an agreement.(Reuters/NAN)
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