Germany and France pushed on Sunday for new solutions to the migration crisis as bickering among European Union leaders left boats carrying hundreds of African migrants adrift at sea.
Sixteen of the EU’s 28 leaders held emergency talks in Brussels to find a way forward in spite of a longstanding deadlock over who should take in migrants and refugees who land in Italy and other European countries.
Hundreds of people fleeing conflict and persecution at home are caught in the midst of a worsening row over how to deal with the influx against a backdrop of mass drownings in the Mediterranean in recent years.
Italy, a country on the frontline of the crisis, has turned away rescue vessels, with its new populist government demanding greater solidarity from reluctant fellow EU states.
One boat, the Lifeline, remained in limbo on Sunday with 239 Africans aboard, including pregnant women and children, with Malta and Italy refusing to take it in after the Aquarius suffered a similar fate until it was allowed to dock in Spain.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini bluntly told foreign charities on Sunday to stop rescuing migrants off Libya, where one group said 1,000 people were on boats in distress.
VIDEO: EU leaders meet in Brussels for emergency talks over #migration as Italy's new populist cabinet turned away another rescue ship, vowing no longer to shoulder Europe's migrant burden pic.twitter.com/A6cmdHSPp7
— AFP news agency (@AFP) June 24, 2018
Merkel, who is scrambling to prevent a mutiny in her government over migration, admitted there were still “some differences” but also “a great deal of common ground”.
Macron pointed to the sharp drop in Mediterranean crossings since 2015 as proof that the crisis is now mainly “political,” fuelled by the rise of anti-immigration populists.
Italy has accused him of “arrogance” and placed the responsibility for saving migrants in the Mediterranean squarely at the feet of Libya, much of which is lawless.
Officials warn that a new surge of migrants could trigger the collapse of free travel within the EU, its signature achievement.
“Our top priority, if we want to save free movement within the Schengen area, is to ensure real, strict controls of the EU’s external borders,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.