20th Mar 2018

EU ministers at odds on relocating 40,000 migrants

  • The European Commission will pay member states €6,000 for each asylum seeker (Photo: Internews Network)

Member states remain at odds on sharing asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, but have agreed to resettle over 20,000 refugees.

The plan, proposed earlier by the European Commission, would see up to 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece redistributed to other member states over a two-year period. Another 20,000 refugees would also be resettled.

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EU interior ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday (9 July) agreed to delay taking a final decision.

“We are not very far from the target, but some countries need time to negotiate, time to adjust, and that’s why today we prefer to defer until the 20 July”, Luxembourg minister Jean Asselborn told reporters.

Relocation refers to migrants arriving in the EU to claim asylum, either by crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat from Libya or by going to Bulgaria and Greece by foot from Turkey.

Resettlement refers to UN-recognised refugees, for instance, Syrians who live in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, or Turkey.

Asselborn said the debate was difficult.

“It is a very sensitive issue,” he noted, adding that another two or three of talks are needed.

He wouldn’t say which EU states pledged or failed to pledge numbers, but he noted non-EU countries, including Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland have agreed to help.

An EU source told this website that Spain was the only country which came to Luxembourg without any pledge.

Meanwhile, AFP reports that France offered to take 9,100 people and Germany offered to take 12,100 asylum seekers and refugees.

The commission had initially proposed binding quotas, based on criteria such as population size, GDP, unemployment rates, and numbers of migrants already hosted.

It has also offered to pay states €6,000 for each migrant they take.

But EU leaders balked at the compulsory scheme at a summit in late June, sayig the commission has no right to dictate terms.

Instead, they opted for a voluntary scheme, prompting both commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to complain that voluntary pledges wouldn’t work.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t think we’re rising to the challenge”, Juncker told MEPs earlier this week.

He said the EU could do more, noting that for the bloc of more than 500 million people to shelter 60,000 migrant “is not exactly an immense performance”.

There are now over 4 million Syrian refugees in camps in neighbouring countries and over 7 million people displaced internally.

"This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation”, UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said in Luxemboug also on Thursday.

He noted that some 137,000 migrants arrived in Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain between January and June this year. Compared to the same period last year, it represents an 83 percent increase.

Around 80,000 have made their way from Turkey into Greece, a six fold increase since last year.

Human dignity

Guterres said more and more people are opting to go to Greece instead of trying to cross the southern and central Mediterranean in a trend which he predicted will “drastically increase in the months to come”.

He also said one reason why people are coming is because international aid for the Syrian refugee camps is less than one third of what was promised.

“Eighty six percent of Syrians in Jordan live below the poverty line”, he noted.

“This explains why the movement onward is taking place - out of despair … We [the UN] aren’t able to provide the minimum level of assistance that human dignity requires”.

He added that conditions in Greece are so bad, that migrants opt to move on, via Wesern Balkan states, into northern Europe.

But he said “we’re witnessing some situations of push-backs” in the Balkans. He also critcised the EU’s building of anti-migrant walls - in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Greece.

Many are from war-torn Syria who then journey up through the Balkans and into Hungary, which now plans to build a four-metre high fence along the border with Serbia.

“We need to give people legal ways to enter Europe if they’re in need of international protection”, he said.

Amnesty International, the charity, says the number of people apprehended crossing the Serbia-Hungary border alone has risen by more than 2,500 percent since 2010, from 2,370 to 60,602.

Poland: No paradise for migrants

Poland is to accept 2,000 migrants under an EU plan, fewer than the EU commission wanted but more than most Poles are willing to accept.

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