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EU OKs Billion-Euro Aid For Syrian Refugees To Curb Migrant Flow

  • RFE/RL

 European Council President Donald Tusk (file photo)

European Council President Donald Tusk (file photo)

European Union leaders have agreed to send 1 billion euros to support Syrians in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, in the bloc's latest effort to stem its worst migration crisis in modern times.

The leaders also agreed early on September 24 to set up "hotspot" centers in front-line states like Greece and Italy by the end of November where EU experts can quickly identify and register people eligible for asylum, European Council President Donald Tusk said after an emergency summit that he chaired.

The hotspot centers are also charged with quickly filtering out people who are migrating for economic reasons and who are unlikely to qualify for asylum, which is only granted to people displaced by war and persecution.

"The measures we have agreed today will not end the crisis. But they are all necessary steps in the right direction," Tusk said after the seven-hour meeting.

He added that European leaders were united this time, after having disagreed sharply over measures approved earlier this week to distribute 120,000 refugees among member states.

Under the latest measures, the EU will deploy more personnel to patrol its borders while boosting support to Turkey and other states bordering Syria to help them cope with millions of people who have taken refuge in border camps there.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would donate $152 million -- including $61 million to the World Food Program -- to help feed refugees in camps close to the conflicts they are fleeing.

"We must make sure that people in refugee camps are properly fed and looked after, not least to help them but also to stop people wanting to make, or thinking of making this very, very difficult and very dangerous journey to Europe," he said.

Many of the nearly half-million people who have fled to Europe this year have taken dangerous trips by rubber dinghy and other shabby boats to cross from Turkey to Greece or from Libya to Italy, seeking what they hope will be better lives in Europe. Others undertake an arduous journey by foot across Greece and the Balkans to try to reach the EU.

French President Francois Hollande before the summit pointedly criticized EU members in Central and Eastern Europe that have resisted taking in a proportionate share of the migrants, in what has become the main bone of contention dividing the bloc.

Slovakia, in particular, has insisted it will not take in its assigned share, and on September 23 announced that it would sue the EU to try to stop the plan. EU officials said the quotas, which were adopted by a majority vote, are binding on all EU members.

"Those who don't share our values, those who don't even want to respect those principles, need to start asking themselves questions about their place in the European Union," Hollande said.

Tusk had called for an end to "the cycle of mutual recriminations and misunderstandings" fueling the split between the EU's richer west and poorer former communist east.

"The most urgent question we should ask ourselves tonight is how to regain control of our external borders," the former Polish prime minister said.

"The conflicts in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, will not end anytime soon," he said. "This means today we're talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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