European Union leaders have reached a deal aimed at controlling the number of migrants and refugees trying to enter Europe.
A hard-fought, but vaguely worded deal was struck early on Friday after more than nine hours of negotiations at an EU summit in Brussels.
Leaders agreed that “controlled centres” should be set up in member states on a voluntary basis for “rapid and secure” processing to distinguish between irregular migrants and refugees eligible for asylum.
It was not yet clear which countries would host the centres.
Relocation and resettlement from the centres would also happen on a voluntary basis, the joint statement said, suggesting countries will not be required to take in people.
EU28 leaders have agreed on #euco conclusions incl. migration.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) June 29, 2018
The leaders agreed to increase funding for Turkey and freed up 500 million euros ($581m) in funding for North Africa.
A joint statement asked to “swiftly explore” the concept of “regional disembarkation platforms” where migrants and refugees would be processed in third countries “to eliminate the incentive to embark on perilous journeys” .
The agreement calls on all member states to “take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures” to counter movement of asylum seekers within the EU while the 28 countries agreed to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea.
After the announcement of the deal, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Today Italy is no longer alone”.
Italy had threatened to veto any deal if fellow EU leaders failed to do more to help the country, where a large share of incoming migrants and refugees arrive.
When asked about his view on the agreement, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, who campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform, said “let’s see the concrete commitments”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the EU still had “a lot of work to do to bridge the different views”.
Merkel was given an ultimatum by her interior minister to reach a European deal on migration at the summit or face unilateral action that explicitly went against her wishes, in a political crisis that threatened to bring an early end to her fourth coalition government.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed the agreement as a “first positive step towards more solidarity”.
A first positive step towards more solidarity on disembarkation, controlled centres for processing in the EU, including relocation and resettlement. I call on all to make this solidarity a reality. #EUCO #migrationEU
— Avramopoulos Dimitris (@Avramopoulos) June 29, 2018
Reporting from Brussels, Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee called the deal a “win for the hardliners”.
“What it does is appease Italy,” he said, adding that it also takes the “pressure off Angela Merkel”.
In recent weeks, vessels with rescued migrants and refugees on board have been left stranded in the Mediterranean after they were barred from docking.
On Wednesday, humanitarian ship Lifeline docked in Malta after eight countries had agreed to take a share of the refugees and migrants on board.
Earlier in June, hundreds of migrants and refugees arrived in Spain after the vessels that rescued them were turned away by both Italy and Malta.
The political crisis over migrants comes amid a steep decline in the amount of people arriving on Europe’s shores.
The United Nations’ refugee agency has said it expects about 80,000 people to arrive by sea this year, which is about half the number that arrived in 2017.
In 2015, more than a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe.
“It really is this engineered panic,” Judith Sunderland, an associate director at Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, told Al Jazeera.
On Friday, EU leaders will reconvene to discuss Brexit and the eurozone.