Fourteen EU countries have agreed to share the burden of receiving migrants rescued while attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, although only eight nations are “active” participants, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday night.

“We’ve strengthened the burden-sharing mechanism in the short term, but we want to go further,” Mr Macron said after a meeting in Paris hosted by the French foreign and interior ministers. The aim is to save lives and accept genuine asylum seekers at the same time as accelerating the return of illegal immigrants to their home countries.

The Franco-German plan, agreed with varying degrees of enthusiasm by half of the EU’s 28 members, envisages that receiving countries will rapidly share the burden of taking in asylum-seekers while Italy and Malta would in theory open their harbours to ships carrying rescued migrants.

A surge of migrants across the Mediterranean and into eastern Europe from north Africa, the Middle East and Asia has stoked angry debates in Europe between governments that favour turning refugees back at the borders and others that have felt obliged to take them in — although even relatively welcoming nations such as France and Germany have recently bowed to public opinion and sought to limit the flow of migrants.

Matteo Salvini, Italian interior minister and leader of the far-right League, refused to come to the Paris meeting, calling it a “flop” that had confirmed Italy “should continue to be Europe’s refugee camp”.

The eight “active” burden-sharing countries mentioned by Mr Macron are France, Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Croatia, Finland, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

In a joint statement, France’s foreign and interior ministries expressed particular concern about human rights abuses against migrants trying to reach Europe via Libya.

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