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European Leaders Hold Summit To Address Migrant Crisis


It's a problem that European leaders cannot ignore any longer - the mass drownings of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The leaders have been widely criticized for their lack of action and for leaving the burden to southern countries like Italy, Spain and Greece. The heads of the 28 EU member states held an emergency summit in Brussels today, but they emerged from the meeting offering few concrete proposals to deal with the crisis. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson covered the summit in Brussels and joins us now. And Soraya, what actions did the European leaders propose to take?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, there were several things they mentioned. One is that they will triple the money allocated for EU rescue and border operations. Another one is to go after traffickers on their turf, basically, to destroy their boats. Exactly how they're going to do that latter one remains to be seen. They'll be working that out over the next two months. But a lot of opponents to this measure say it raises a red flag if you look at it legally, especially if militaries from EU nations become involved. Individual member states are also going to send military boats and aircraft from their own fleets to help beef up the search and rescue.

SIEGEL: Well, given the scale of the crisis, do you think the European publics will feel that the EU leaders are doing enough?

NELSON: Well, many people probably won't, given the fact that a lot of what's being proposed is vague and noncommittal as it's been in the past. For example, EU president Donald Tusk says member states are going to coordinate on increasing resettlement of refugees but on a voluntary basis. And then earlier today, European Parliament President Martin Schulz - he harshly criticized the summit, saying this kind of debate has been going on far too long without any real solution. He points out the additional money, for example, that's being pledged to do the search and rescue is a lot less than what the Italian Navy spent before it began phasing out its rescue operation.

SIEGEL: What does Schulz say is needed?

NELSON: He would like to see a more comprehensive, like, migrant policy - basically a fair quota, if you will, so that all 28 states take in refugees. Right now only five EU countries - and that will be Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Greece - are handling 70 percent of the influx.

SIEGEL: Soraya, why are EU countries reluctant to deal with this issue more decisively?

NELSON: Well, they're facing a lot of pressure from constituents who don't want migrants pouring into Europe. I mean, at this point, Germany, for example, has had the most immigrants coming in that they've seen in - or I should say refugees coming in that they've seen in many, many years. But there's also pressure mounting on leaders from people who are horrified by the number of people who are dying as it happened this past week as they're so desperately trying to reach Europe.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brussels. Soraya, thank you very much.

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