Europe migrants: Italy warns passport-free travel at risk

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has become the public face of Italy's new unbending line on migrants

Leaders attending the summit will focus on protecting external borders, as well as tackling the secondary movement of migrants within the EU, Merkel said.

Under the so-called Dublin rules, asylum-seekers must be processed in the country where they first arrive, often Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece and Spain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the meeting produced "a lot of goodwill" to resolve differences over how to manage the refugees and economic migrants who are willing to risk their lives to reach Europe. Anti-migrant parties - and governments in Hungary and Italy - have been fomenting public fears of foreigners.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron held out little hope they would be able to gather all 28 nations behind a single immigration plan at the upcoming summit.

The prime ministers of Denmark, Belgium and Luxembourg also backed the idea of outsourcing the effort to tame migration, although they emphasised the need to respect worldwide law.

Earlier this month Spain offered safe haven to the charity ship Aquarius that was blocked from docking in Italy or Malta as Rome's new government tries to pressure European partners to shoulder more of the burden of immigration from North Africa.

Tensions have risen, too, among Western countries themselves about migration policies.

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Merkel, facing a revolt by her Bavarian conservative allies that could break up her government, on Sunday said she would seek direct deals with separate European Union states on migration, conceding the bloc had failed to find a joint solution to the issue threatening her government.

"That is why there will be bilateral and trilateral agreements, how can we help each other - not always wait for all 28 members but think about what is important to whom", she said.

"Whoever lands in Italy lands in Europe".

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace on Saturday.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks at an emergency European Union leaders summit on immigration, in Brussels, Belgium on June 24, 2018.

Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hit back at the French president.

Proactiva Open Arms, which has rescued thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, said the Italians want the Libyan coast guard to conduct the rescues and return the migrants.

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But Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said his country had faced 650,000 arrivals by sea over the past four years, 430,000 asylum requests and the hosting of 170,000 "alleged refugees" for an overall cost of more than $5.8bn.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat sought to lower the rhetoric as he arrived on Sunday in Brussels, saying now was not the time for a "blame game".

Since assuming office several weeks ago, Italy's new government has refused to admit foreign-flagged rescue ships packed with hundreds of migrants.

As tensions rise between Rome and Paris as well as Rome and Berlin, the top-level talks are created to help clear the heavy air for a previously scheduled full summit of all European Union leaders on Thursday and Friday.

Like everything to do with migrants in Europe lately, even this meeting is proving controversial.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Malta's army made a medical evacuation from a stranded rescue ship that Italy and Malta have refused to take in, while the container ship Alexander Maersk picked up 113 migrants from a boat off southern Italy last Friday, the ship owner said.

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