Southern EU countries pledge to improve common migration policy

Emmanuel Macron and Paolo Gentiloni in Rome

Emmanuel Macron and Paolo Gentiloni in Rome

The leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain have reiterated their "firm commitment" to a common European policy on migration and called to make the union more responsive to its citizens, media reports have said.

Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras has met with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni ahead of the fourth summit of Southern European countries in Rome.

Seven Mediterranean countries are encouraging citizens to have their say on the European Union's future in coming months. The group met twice previous year, in Lisbon and Madrid.

But from overcrowded reception centres on Greek islands to packed boats heading for Spain, the hottest topic is bound to be migrants.

For its part, Spain saw a notable increase in Algerians and Moroccans sailing in, from 6,000 attempting the crossing in 2016 to almost 23,000 picked up past year.

The toll of dead or missing in the Mediterranean dropped from almost 5,000 during crossings in 2016 to 3,116 in 2017, mostly off the coast of Libya.

Between 90 and 100 migrants were missing after their makeshift boat sank off Libya, the country's navy said late on Tuesday.

Southern European countries - Italy and Greece especially - have served as major entry points for people seeking refuge or better life in Europe from Africa and the Middle East, and have repeatedly appealed for migrant and refugee inflows to be shared more evenly across the EU.

In Italy, the authorities have stopped providing details on the number of asylum seekers housed in its reception centres, with the last available figures showing there were almost 200,000 last spring.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti - the man behind the Brussels-backed deal with Libya to block migrants from setting out for Europe - has urged the European Union to follow Rome's lead on humanitarian corridors.

With France also facing a record increase in asylum applications, the migration issue is expected to figure at a bilateral meeting on Thursday between Macron and Gentiloni.

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