BRUSSELS, BELGIUM.- European Union countries remained deeply divided Tuesday over how to reform EU rules for managing the influx of refugees and migrants, as U.N. agencies reported that an estimated 112 people died over the weekend when a smuggler’s boat sank as it tried to reach Europe.
The estimated toll made the shipwreck off Tunisia the deadliest this year in the dangerous route from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. EU migration ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, were pessimistic that new proposals to update the bloc’s asylum system would be accepted by many of the bloc’s 28 nations.
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Well over 1 million people, mostly Syrians fleeing war at home, entered Europe in 2015, overwhelming Greece and Italy and surprising Germany, which took in hundreds of thousands of refugees. Their arrival strained relations among EU neighbors and fueled anti-migrant sentiment, especially in central and eastern Europe.
EU leaders have insisted that the deadlock over how to handle migrants and refugees must be broken this month.
In his first policy address, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared Europe’s immigration policy a “failure” and demanded that it be renegotiated. Italy has been the primary entry point for thousands of migrants to Europe via the Mediterranean this year.
Conte insisted the rest of the EU must take on a greater burden of accepting refugees, as well as negotiating with migrants’ home countries to return those who don’t qualify for asylum.
Germany’s deputy interior minister, Stephan Mayer, said “there are still considerable deficits” in the proposals to overhaul EU immigration laws, while Dutch Migration Minister Mark Harbers said there are “a lot of member states that still have points of discussion.”