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EU leaders pledge $1.1B to aid Syrian refugees

Philipp Guelland | Getty Images

European Union leaders pledged 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to help U.N. agencies support Syrian refugees who remain in the Middle East at a crisis summit on migration, the meeting's chairman Donald Tusk said early on Thursday.

Other officials said a number of other pledges were made and Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's chief executive, told reporters that the summit was conducted in an "excellent" atmosphere that was less tense than some had forecast.

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Tusk and Juncker said they would host a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on October 5 as part of efforts to cooperate with Ankara to limit the numbers of migrants reaching Greece. The leaders also agreed to tighten controls using EU-backed border personnel on the bloc's external frontiers.

Tusk said that there were "very substantial and energetic" exchanges during the meeting between the Austrian and Hungarian leaders, whose common border was among those disrupted by chaotic crowds of migrants this summer, but not the mutual recrimination that had threatened to tear apart the bloc's cherished passport-free Schengen zone.

Hungary lies in the path of the largest migration wave Europe has seen since World War Two and has registered more than 220,000 asylum-seekers this year. To stem the flow of migrants, the country's right-wing government has built a fence on the Serbian frontier and is constructing another on Hungary's border with Croatia.

"Today's meeting and this atmosphere are a very positive sign," said Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland. "It's quite a symbolic moment for me as it's clear we have stopped this risky blame game."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized by some eastern neighbors for what they saw as actions that have fuelled the influx of people trying to reach Germany, voiced satisfaction: "We know that the problem is not solved with the decision taken. But we have taken one of many necessary steps. I got the feeling that we want to tackle this task together."

Held at short notice after governments fell out badly over a scheme to share out responsibilities for asylum-seekers around the EU, the summit carried political rather than legal weight. A joint statement read: "We can only manage this challenge by working together in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility."

Among short-term actions before the next regular summit in mid-October, the EU will offer at least 1 billion euros more to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, its World Food Programme and other agencies and increase funding for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries - part of a broad push to ease factors driving Syrians to risk sailing to Europe.

"It is close to the scene of the tragedy that the refugees must be kept, welcomed, supported," said French President Francois Hollande, renewing a call for global cooperation by wealthy powers to take in some of the most needy cases.