French President Emmanuel Macron announced late on Monday that 14 of the 28 members of the European Union have agreed to a new “solidarity mechanism” proposed by Germany and France to allocate migrants and refugees across the bloc.
The EU’s interior and foreign ministers gathered in Paris in an attempt to bridge bitter divisions over the ongoing debate about how Europe should handle the issue over illegal migration from the Middle East and Africa.
Specifically, the government officials who were in Paris set out to find a temporary solution for the relocation of asylum seekers that have disembarked in Italian ports. According to Macron, half of the EU’s members appear to have reached an agreement but did not go into specifics about what the accord would entail. Macron did say, however, that the new initiative would be “quick” and “automatic”.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose country, along with Greece and Spain, is at the forefront of the migrant and refugee influx in Europe, did not take part in the meeting due to disagreements with Brussels over Italy’s refusal to allow migrants rescued at sea to be put to shore in Italian ports.
Salvini’s rejection of the current practice of offloading illegal migrants in the seaport nearest to where they were rescued was a key factor in the EU’s Operation Sophia ending its naval patrols in the Mediterranean in March. The Italian government said at the time that after four years of taking in huge numbers of refugees and migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea, it could not continue to open the nation’s ports to migrant charity ships.
Following the Paris meeting, Macron said France has asked the Libyan government to ensure that migrants would no longer be placed in custody when caught trying to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean and that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure their safety.
At least 5,200 people are currently in detention centres in Libya, according to the International Organization for Migration, as Libya remains an important transit point for migrants fleeing conflict and instability in other parts of Africa and the Middle East.
France, together with the EU, the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration, hopes to revive a programme for the voluntary return of refugees in Libya to their country of origin.