EU finalizes Turkey refugee fund after Italy drops opposition

EU member states gave the final go-ahead Wednesday for a 3-billion-euro (3.3-billion-dollar) fund aimed at improving the lives of refugees in Turkey, as part of efforts to reduce the number of people heading to Europe in search of a better life.

The continent has been struggling to get a handle on a migration influx that saw more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers arrive last year. Many had fled the war in Syria, reaching Greece after crossing through Turkey and undertaking risky boat journeys.

The EU funds are part of an action plan agreed with Ankara to help curb the arrivals. But after promising the aid in November, EU member states spent weeks haggling over who should foot the bill.

Italy in particular had argued that it should all come out of the EU's budget, but on Monday Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said his country would "give our contribution to solve the issue posed by Turkey."

Under the compromise agreed Wednesday, the European Commission will double its initial share of the fund to 1 billion euros. Among member states, Germany will pay the largest part, at 427.5 million euros, followed by Britain, France and an Italian contribution of 224.9 million euros.

"The money we are putting on the table will directly benefit Syrian refugees in Turkey, helping to improve their access to education and healthcare in particular," said commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.

Wednesday's decision comes just ahead of an international donors' conference for Syrians taking place in London on Thursday. The EU is hoping to be a leading contributor to relief efforts for Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting the bulk of Syrian refugees.

"It is an important concern for the commission to do everything so that the refugees can live as close to possible to their countries of origin," the president of the European Union's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, told EU lawmakers earlier Wednesday.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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