SALZBURG, Austria (Reuters) – The chairman of the body grouping European Union government leaders lashed out on Wednesday against those seeking to score political points by whipping up disputes over migration rather than helping each other respond to the challenge.
EU leaders were meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg later on Wednesday to tackle migration once again, an issue that has badly damaged their unity in recent years.
They will seek more ways of reducing immigration and, right before chairing the talks, EU Council chairman Donald Tusk said progress had been made since migrant arrivals peaked in 2015. He said fewer than 100,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe without necessary documentation this year.
“In fact, this is less than in the years before the migration crisis,” Tusk said.
“I will call on EU leaders to stop the migration blame game. Despite aggressive rhetoric, things are moving in the right direction,” he told reporters in Salzburg.
“Instead of taking political advantage of the situation, we should focus on what works … We can no longer be divided into those who want to solve the problem of illegal migrant flows and those who want to use it for political gain.”
More than a million migrants arrived from the tumultuous Middle East and impoverished Africa in 2015, stretching public services and leading to a rise in far-right anti-immigrant parties challenging liberal democracies around the EU.
The EU has since struck deals with countries from Turkey to Lebanon to Libya, offering them money and aid in exchange for keeping a tighter lid on migration to Europe. It has also tightened its borders and made it harder to win asylum.
Despite a steep drop in immigration numbers since 2015, however, political aftershocks are still reverberating with member states at loggerheads over how to distribute new arrivals and share the burden of integrating migrants already in the EU.
Italy’s firebrand far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has excoriated the EU over its disarray on migration.
A majority of Europeans support taking in refugees although many disapprove of how the EU has handled a record influx, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Heinrich