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UN: Agencies Cautiously Welcome EU Mediterranean Deal

Migrants intercepted aboard a dinghy off the coast in the Strait of Gibraltar, are led into a bus of Spanish civil guard after arriving on a rescue boat at the port of Tarifa, southern Spain, June 29, 2018.

U.N. agencies are cautiously welcoming an agreement the European Union reached Friday after a marathon summit on problems posed by migrants who reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

The European Union states in principle have agreed to set up so-called secure centers to process asylum claims. Under the proposed deal, these centers are to be established in EU states on a voluntary basis. The aim is to relieve front-line states, such as Italy, Spain and Greece, of having the sole responsibility of accepting and processing migrants rescued at sea.

A welcomed consensus

A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Leonard Doyle, said he was pleased with the solidarity and consensus that emerged from the summit in Brussels.

“Any solution that comes from the migration issue needs to be a European solution,” Doyle said, but it should come “with the absolutely indispensable engagement of the African Union at every step of the way.”

U.N. agencies report about 40,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea this year, a small fraction of the number over the same period in 2016. Despite the reduced numbers, positions against maritime refugees and migrants have hardened. Recently, Italy and Malta refused to disembark hundreds of migrants rescued at sea.

U.N. waiting for details

Charley Yaxley, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman, said the EU agreement was a promising first step. But he told VOA that the proof of the effectiveness of this proposal would be in its implementation. He said the details were yet to be developed.

“Ultimately, if this is a coming together of European states and states in the region to develop a more harmonized approach to asylum that relieves some of the disproportionate responsibility that is currently being placed on a small handful of states, then that is something that will be welcomed,” Yaxley said.

Yaxley said he wanted to see a unified approach that moves away from states unilaterally adopting actions that strengthen borders and restrict access by those seeking asylum from war and persecution.