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26th Jan 2020

New EU proposal to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers

  • Art installation showing mini migrant tents in Berlin (Photo: Oxfam International)

The European Commission plans to redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers arriving in Greece, Italy, and Hungary among other member states.

The latest plan will be unveiled on Wednesday (9 September) by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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Juncker is also set to announce rules on quickly repatriating people from Western Balkan countries who claim asylum in EU states.

A similar proposal to relocate 40,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over a two-year period was made over the summer.

But EU leaders in July declined the binding quotas underpinning the commission’s plan and instead opted for a voluntary approach. They agreed to relocate 32,000 people.

With thousands fleeing war and persecution arriving in the EU on a daily basis, the issue is exposing rifts between member states.

Resistance to the EU plans has emerged from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. All are meeting in Prague on Friday to formulate a common position, but Poland is now warming up to the idea of accepting more refugees.

Orban: quota is a "bluff"

Hungary, at the time of the commission's first proposal in May, described the plan as "mad and unfair” and refused, along with Austria, to host any asylum seekers.

In Brussels on Wednesday, its right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, described the quota proposal as a “bluff”.

“Those who are proposing it know full well it won’t work,” he added at a press conference after meeting with leaders of the European institutions.

Yet in what appeared to be a departure from his tough stance against the scheme, Orban said he would consider the quota system once he saw the actual proposal.

“We haven’t got any offer like that, if we get it we’ll think about it“, he said,

Orban said Hungary is not a front-line state because most asylum seekers who got to Hungary first enter the EU in Greece.

He reiterated that quotas are an invitation to what he sees as mostly economic migrants coming to Europe in the hope of a better life. He also opposed any plans for the EU to send in any experts to help resolve asylum bottlenecks.

Orban said, echoing Slovak prime minister Rober Fico’s earlier comments, “as long as we let [former Italian PM] Berlusconi manage the situation with Libya, we had no problem.”

He urged the EU not to hinder Hungary in defending its borders, which Orban said would be more effective from 15 September, when new amendments - criticised by rights groups for curbing individual rights - come into force.

Orban did not rule out building a fence along the Croatian border, if migrants started crossing into Hungary from there, rather than Serbia.

The Hungarian PM is travelling onto Prague where he will meet with the Czech, Polish, and Slovak leaders. He said they will consider the possibility of calling for an emergency EU summit, among other things.

French U-turn

France had also rejected the mandatory quota system but it too appears to have changed course.

French president Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday that he supports a “permanent and obligatory mechanism” on distributing asylum seekers.

He said that he and German chancellor Angela Merkel would propose the measure, along with other ideas, at a meeting of interior ministers on 14 September.

EU council president Donald Tusk said “fair distribution of at least 100,000 refugees” is required.

The pressure to act has intensified in recent weeks following the death of 71 people in the back of a lorry in Austria.

Thousands of migrants had been thwarted in their attempts to travel from Budapest central train station to Austria and Germany after police blocked them from boarding trains. Police ended their two-day blockade on Thursday.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the image of a lifeless three-year old Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey sparked outrage.

From Fallujah to Brussels: a perilous route

Three Iraqi asylum seekers reach their destination of Belgium after an arduous journey from Iraq, as they cling to the hope of a more flexible family reunification policy

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