EU member states have put together a deal to address the migration crisis that Angela Merkel earlier this week warned “could end up determining Europe’s destiny”.
Following a gruelling nine hours of “often stormy” overnight talks in Brussels on Thursday, leaders agreed on a tentative plan of action that will create secure processing centres across Europe, Reuters reports.
Would-be asylum seekers whose claims are rejected will be deported, while those accepted as genuine refugees will be resettled by EU states on a voluntary basis.
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Other agreements reached at Thursday’s summit include a deal on shared responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, another of Italy’s key demands.
Countries that function as key transit points on human smuggling routes into Europe, such as Turkey and Morocco, will also receive extra funding to strengthen their borders.
Many of the finer details of the deal, such as where the processing centres will be located or how countries will share the burden of resettlement, remain vague.
But even a vague agreement is a better-than-expected outcome for a summit that European Council President Donald Tusk himself admitted was “incredibly heated”.
“Diplomats described a tense, tortured meeting with small groups of leaders huddled together in a desperate bid to break the deadlock,” HuffPost reports.
Although the number of migrants seeking refuge in Europe has slowed dramatically since peaking in 2015, the issue remains deeply divisive.
The influx of migrants has exposed economic, social and political tensions that run deeper than the current crisis, says the BBC’s Katya Adler.
Northern European nations suspect their poorer neighbours to the south and east of turning a blind eye to migrants passing through en route to wealthier countries, while “Italy and Greece smoulder with resentment at having been left alone to deal with migrant arrivals”.
Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has said that calls for migrants to be processed in the first EU country that they arrive in put an unfair burden on his nation. Prior to the summit, he vowed to veto any prospective deal that did not alleviate Italy’s burden.
However, proposals to distribute asylum seekers proportionally among member states have been met with point-blank refusal by nationalist governments in central and eastern Europe.
Emerging from the talks at 5am local time, Merkel - who has faced intense pressure at home to take a harder line on migration - sought to assure reporters that the tentative deal was a “good signal” of cooperation among member states.
EU leaders now have “a lot of work to do to bridge the different views”, she acknowledged.
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