Macron: EU countries agree to new migrant and refugee mechanism

A migrant looks out as they approach port, from the deck of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue vessel, after being rescued in the central Mediterranean Sea on December 21 before disembarking in the port of Crinavis in Algeciras, Spain, yesterday. To reach Crinavis they sailed for six days with more than 300 migrants on board because other European countries closed their ports to the ship. PHOTO: AP
A migrant looks out as they approach port, from the deck of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue vessel, after being rescued in the central Mediterranean Sea on December 21 before disembarking in the port of Crinavis in Algeciras, Spain, yesterday. To reach Crinavis they sailed for six days with more than 300 migrants on board because other European countries closed their ports to the ship. PHOTO: AP

Fourteen-member countries of the European Union agreed to a new "solidarity mechanism" proposed by Germany and France to allocate migrants and refugees across the bloc, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

The announcement came after foreign affairs and interior ministers of the EU gathered in the French capital, Paris, on Monday to discuss immigration and security issues following a first gathering in Finland last week.

"The conclusion of this morning's meeting is that, in principle, 14-member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document," Macron told reporters.

READ | Most migrants drowned off Spain coast never found: NGO

Macron, who called for the meeting, did not spell out specifics but said the new initiative would be "quick" and "automatic".

Disagreements on how to share out rescuees led the EU to end its Mediterranean Sea patrols earlier this year, with Italy's rejection of the arrangement whereby those rescued at sea were predominantly taken to Italian ports a critical factor in the move.

Landing points

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose country is at the forefront of the migrant and refugee influx in Europe, did not take part in Monday's meeting.

In a letter to his French counterpart Christophe Castaner, Salvini warned of the effect of decisions "solely taken in Paris and Berlin".

Alongside Greece and Spain, Italy is one of the main EU landing points for migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East.

The country took in almost all of the refugees and migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until a populist coalition government took office in 2018 and immediately sought to close the nation's ports to the charity ships.

Salvini's rejection of the arrangement whereby those rescued at sea were taken to Italian ports was a crucial factor in the EU's Operation Sophia ending its naval patrols in the Mediterranean in March.

Since its launch in 2015, the mission has rescued tens of thousands of people.

Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration, almost half as many as the 1 425 registered in 2018.

Macron also said on Monday that France had asked the Libyan government to ensure migrants and refugees would no longer be placed in custody in the country and that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure their safety.

Libya is one of the main departure points for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa and attempting to reach Europe.

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