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EU Leaders Approve Measures To Control Migrant Influx


European leaders who've been deeply divided over what to do about migrants pouring over their borders are a little less so tonight. For the second night in a row, they've approved plans aimed at gaining control over the massive influx. After the meeting, EU president Donald Tusk welcomed the breakthrough.


DONALD TUSK: It is clear that the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come. Therefore, we need to correct the policy of open doors and windows. Now the focus should be on the proper protection of our external borders and on external assistance to refugees and the countries in our neighborhood.

MCEVERS: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Brussels, and she joins us now. And Soraya, what is in the EU leader's plan?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, the most important thing is that they came up with a join plan, that it's no longer going to be individual countries doing their own thing. And that's really important in this particular crisis. In terms of tangible results, they're talking about more than $1 billion in aid to persuade refugees and migrants not to come to Europe. And the way that would work is that the money would go to agencies and countries to make their situation better in places outside of Europe.

And - but most importantly, they've talked about these things called hotspots and actually set a deadline for them, to do that by November. This would be in Greece, Italy and Bulgaria. And what these hotspots are are the places where refugees and migrants, when they first show up, they're evaluated to see whether they actually qualify for refugee status in Europe. The idea is that they would be housed in these facilities if they're not qualified and perhaps sent back. But this is the first time they've actually talked about doing this in some sort of coordinated fashion.

MCEVERS: Right. I mean, but there are already a lot of migrants and refugees in Greece and Italy and Bulgaria. They don't have any of these hotspots now, do they?

NELSON: That's correct. I mean, they have one in Greece, but there haven't been any relocations. I mean, these relocations they talk about can't happen unless they have these hotspots. And so now the idea would be that they would put them in more places. How many is unclear.

MCEVERS: I mean, they did pass a plan last night to relocate 120,000 refugees within the 28-nation block of the EU. Did they make any changes to that plan?

NELSON: They didn't. Although, the tensions that arose because of that vote on this particular plan - they were simmering all night. President Tusk, for example, describes a substantive energetic discussion between the Hungarian and Austrian prime ministers. These two countries in particular have been at each other's throats because Austria feels Hungary is sending all the refugees and migrants there way. And, you know, Hungary, on the other hand, feels that countries like Austria aren't really helping them.

So - but Tusk says that he believe the block has stopped playing the blame game, as he calls it. He thinks now that they will start to work together more jointly.

MCEVERS: And what about other border controls? I mean, we've heard talk about fences and razor wire going up not just on Europe's main borders but even between EU countries.

NELSON: Yeah, well, that's interesting because that is the thing that Tusk said was the most important to do - was to deal with the border issues and fortifying those borders. And yet, there was really nothing specifically that talked about that.

One thing that he did mention was - and this would be Tusk - is that there will be a possible common European policy when talking about foreign borders. But he admitted it was very controversial that there are sovereignty issues. And basically all of them - he said - you know, everyone agreed that they have to continue the discussion. But there won't be any changes for now other than countries sort of doing their own thing piecemeal and has been happening.

MCEVERS: I mean, Soraya, you've been following this story for some time, and there was talk at one point that this is an issue that could break up the European Union. Are we now away from that brink? Does it look like there's going to be some unity going forward?

NELSON: Well, certainly they've gotten the reprieve, or so it seems tonight, anyway. I mean, again, there wasn't enough there to really stop this crisis. And the most important thing - the borders - they could not come to an agreement on. So clearly, there's still some tension there that could cause some problems down the road, especially when it concerns borders.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Brussels. Soraya, thank you so much.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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