* Brussels says 225 mln euros needed now for Africa
* Much lower arrivals let leaders talk stalled asylum reform
* EU aims for deal mid-2018 but many sceptical
(Adds Merkel, Juncker, official, EU parliament)
By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS, Oct 19 (Reuters) - European Union leaders agreed
on Thursday to provide "stronger support" to Italy for its work
in Libya and replenish their Africa fund to further curb
immigration to Europe.
"We have a real chance of closing the Central Mediterranean
route," chairman Donald Tusk said after 28 EU leaders meeting in
Brussels discussed migration, stressing the need to lower the
number of arrivals from Africa going through the Mediterranean
EU executive European Commission told the group they needed
to immediately chip in an extra 225 million euros for
migration-related projects in Africa due to run this year and
"If we do want to be as present as possible in Africa -
mainly in the Northern part of Africa - we have to increase
financial means," Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Brussels has so far committed 2.9 billion euros to the
so-called Africa Trust Fund, with another 234 million euros from
EU states, according to the Commission.
Brussels said 1.6 billion euros would be spent by the end of
2017 on Turkey. In 2016 the bloc promised 3 billion euros for
Syrian refugees in exchange for Ankara shutting down the route
traffickers and smugglers were using to get people to Greece.
Despite sour EU-Turkey relations on several issues, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Ankara for hosting refugees
from Syria and said the bloc should pull together another 3
billion euros to that end.
"We have promised 3 billion euros for the coming years in
addition to the 3 billion that we have already committed. We
need to deliver on this promise," Merkel told reporters on
arriving for the two-day EU leaders' summit in Brussels.
"This money helps the refugees who are living under very
difficult conditions. Once again, Turkey is doing a great job
here," she said.
Since 2015, the bloc has helped Greece, Italy and Bulgaria
with nearly 2 billion euros to manage immigration flows. It
spent another 100 million euros on controlling migratory routes
in the Western Balkans, according to figures provided by the
It has been spending on more deportations and financing
United Nations projects for refugees and migrants in Africa, and
mulling a center in Libya to assess asylum requests there.
Despite criticism from rights groups that the EU is
violating international humanitarian law by striving to curb
immigration, the bloc has applauded itself for reducing arrivals
by more than 70 percent in 2016 from the peak in 2015 when more
than a million people entered in an uncontrolled flow.
The influx of immigrants in 2015 caught the bloc by
surprise, alarmed the EU's 500 million people and fuelled
support for anti-immigration, populist and nationalist groups.
The bloc's asylum system broke down under the sheer numbers
and the cherished Schengen zone of control-free travel was
strained as member states introduced emergency border checks.
EU states have since sought to agree on how to change their
asylum laws, with bitter disputes deepening east-west divides.
Tusk said on Thursday the 28 EU leaders would discuss the
issue again in December and were aiming for an agreement by
Earlier this week, the European Parliament agreed its own
stance on asylum reform, including an option to cut EU funds to
states that refuse to host asylum-seekers reaching the bloc.
It proposed moving away from the current rule mandating that
the first country through which a person enters the EU must
handle his or her asylum request, saying it puts too much burden
on frontline states like Italy, Greece, Malta or Spain.
Southern frontline states want a scheme that would
automatically lift people off their soil during periods of
exceptionally high immigration and take them elsewhere in the
Westerners like Germany and Sweden, which eventually receive
most of the refugees, have said more of the burden must be
shared and that solidarity was needed.
Eastern EU countries like Poland and Hungary have refused to
admit anyone, saying doing so could compromise national security
and affect the traditional composition of their populations.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Additional reporting by Lily
Cusack; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
First Published: 2017-10-19 20:18:46
Updated 2017-10-19 23:54:26
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