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Talk Of Unity, But Little Progress At EU Mini-Summit On Migration


German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed for the EU mini-summit on migration. (file photo)

The leaders of 16 EU countries spoke of a unified effort to solve the migrant crisis on the continent, but their "mini-summit" failed to yield any concrete decisions.

"We will continue to work on resolving these issues," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on June 24 after the Brussels gathering.

"There was a lot of goodwill to do this today, and apart from a few differences, there was a great deal of unity," she added.

Merkel, who is under pressure in Germany to move forward on the issue, had pressed for the meetings ahead of a previously planned EU summit of all 28 bloc members on June 28-29.

She faces a domestic challenge by her interior minister and longtime ally, Horst Seehofer, who has threatened to implement unilateral controls at Germany's borders if no EU-wide agreement can be reached.

Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic -- the so-called Visegrad Four countries -- have said they will boycott the mini-summit because of opposition to calls from Western EU counterparts, particularly Germany, for all member states to "share the burden" and accept a quota of migrants.

Merkel stressed the need for solidarity, saying, "We cannot leave the countries of arrival alone, because that would mean that they have to solve all the problems alone."

Hundreds of thousands of people have arrived since 2015, most fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq, fueling tensions among bloc members and boosting the influence of antimigrant parties that reaped large vote totals by playing on public fears of foreigners.

Tensions are still high despite a sharp decrease in migrant arrivals since their peak in 2015, when more than 1 million Syrian asylum-seekers and others entered the bloc.

Tensions have risen, too, among Western countries themselves over migration policies.

Italy last week closed its ports to a boat carrying more than 600 migrants who had been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on June 24 that Italy wanted "radical change" to the EU migration policy.

He said the so-called Dublin rule, under which migrants must apply for asylum in the EU country that they first enter, should be completely overhauled.

His country has proposed the European Multilevel Strategy for Migration, in which it "wants to tackle the problem in a structured way, because that is what public opinion is telling us," Conte said.

Under the 10-point plan, the EU would work with the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration to set up refugee protection centers in transit countries to examine asylum applications there, before they arrive in Europe.

With reporting by dpa and AFP
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