The European Union is attempting to sell its new plan to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system amid concerns it has sold out to anti-migrant governments.
Critics say the proposal focuses on rapidly deporting people who do not qualify as refugees and persuading African countries to stop them from coming.
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is aimed at ending years of chaos at Europe’s borders and a political crisis that has seen some EU countries turn their backs on Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, where most people enter.
It has received a cautious welcome from Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, whose anti-migrant governments, along with those of Poland and Slovakia, refuse to bow to pressure to take in refugees and ease the load on their Mediterranean coastal partners.
The leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland affirmed their hard-line stance at EU headquarters on Thursday.
Germany, France, Greece and Italy see the pact as a good basis to negotiate on.
The measures, which must be endorsed by all 27 EU countries and the European Parliament, could prove to be a hard sell, particularly as the top migration officials want to see it approved by the end of the year.
“We have a system that makes sense,” European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said.
“I am not asking you to like it. I am asking you to understand it.”
Under the proposals, migrants arriving at Europe’s outside borders without permission would be screened within five days.
They would then enter an asylum procedure or be deported, both within 12 weeks.
Migrants could be held in detention throughout and would enter a legal limbo on arrival because they would not be deemed to have entered EU territory.
EU member countries would then face two choices – take in some of the refugees or provide other material and logistical support or, for those not willing, take charge of deporting people whose applications are refused.
Mandatory refugee quotas have been abandoned.
Countries that accept to host refugees would receive 10,000 euro (£9,041.50) per person in assistance from the EU’s coffers.
Migrant arrivals have dropped significantly since 2015 when well over one million people entered Europe, most of them Syrians fleeing conflict.
The decrease in numbers is largely because of a deal the EU struck with Turkey, paying billions of euros to persuade Ankara to stop people leaving.
The new EU plan aims to build on aspects of that deal, establishing “partnerships” with the countries of northern Africa, where most people leave in search of sanctuary or better lives in Europe.
“We need to move towards a comprehensive set of agreements and commitments with these countries that would be good for their people but good also for their ability to manage their borders and their migration systems,” Mr Schinas said.
He said “tailor made” agreements would be sought with them, aimed at fighting smuggling, beefing up their border management capabilities, building reception centres and improving the way people are “returned” from Europe.
EU officials reject claims they might pressure these countries but the commission will draw up a report on how co-operative they are in accepting their nationals back.
If they are not, they could be removed from Europe’s visa-free list.