European Union ministers have reached agreement on a long-stalled reform of its asylum policy to share out the responsibility for looking after migrants and refugees more equitably.
Home affairs ministers from the 27-member bloc sealed the deal to introduce tougher asylum and migration policies on Thursday, after a fraught day of negotiations.
Endorsed by 21 of the 27 member states, it hopes to end years of division dating back to 2015 when more than a million people – mostly fleeing war in Syria – reached the EU across the Mediterranean.
European interior affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson hailed a "hugely significant step" for the EU on migration.
Under the deal that eventually came together and is to be finalised ahead of a 2024 EU election, each country would be responsible for a set number of people, but would not necessarily have to take them in.
Countries unwilling to take in their quota of asylum seekers would be required to help those that do through cash – around 20,000 euros per person – equipment or personnel. The money would be paid into an EU fund dedicated to managing migration.
The agreement would introduce a new expedited border procedure (a maximum of 12 weeks) for those deemed unlikely to win asylum, for example Senegalese, Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian or Bangladeshi nationals, to prevent them from staying within the bloc for years.
Poland and Hungary – among the EU's loudest voices against accepting sea immigrants – opposed the deal, saying the bloc's national leaders should return to the matter when they meet later in June. That, however, did not scupper the deal which required a majority of 65 percent of the bloc's population.
Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained.
Countries on the EU's southern edge, including Italy and Greece, have long demanded more help to cope with the numbers of people arriving on their shores.
Eastern EU countries such as Poland and Hungary refused to host anyone from the mainly-Muslim Middle East and North Africa, while right-wing and populist parties across the bloc have fuelled the debate with anti-immigration rhetoric.
Liberal critics of the agreement said the rapid border procedure risked reviving tragic scenes that played out on the Greek islands several years ago by creating even more overcrowded and inadequate migration camps on EU periphery.
Oxfam, a charity that aids refugees, has criticised the direction of the talks as EU countries take harsher steps to stem asylum seekers.
It argued prior to the final negotiations that the proposals "will not fix the chronic deficiencies in the EU asylum system".
"Instead, they signal the EU's desire to barricade Europe from asylum seekers," Oxfam said.
The reform must now be approved by EU member states and MEPs to come into force.