18th Mar 2018

EU must step up migrant relocation, say Italy and Greece

  • A camp in Greece. (Photo: © European Union 2016 - European Parliament)

Greece has urged EU member states to step up the relocation of migrants within the bloc and Italy has encouraged others to follow Germany's lead and accept more refugees.

“At the moment we have 7,000 people ready to be relocated and no answers from the EU member states obliged to accept them,” Greek migration minister Yannis Mouzalas told journalists on Tuesday (23 August).

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He said Greek officials would tour EU capitals in September and ask that the EU “fulfils what has been agreed”.

Some 58,000 people are currently said to be stuck in Greece since its neighbours closed border crossings to migrants earlier this year.

Greece and Italy are the main arrival points for migrants. Since the beginning of the year more than 163,000 have arrived in Greece and 100,000 in Italy, UNHCR figures show.

Both countries are struggling to provide a proper reception. Mouzalas said the government plans to replace existing camps by Christmas.

The European Commission allocated €11 million in emergency funding to Greece and Italy in July.

EU member states are supposed to help the two countries with sharing responsibility for refugees under a relocation scheme proposed by the European Commission and adopted by member states last year.

Some 160,000 people have been earmarked for relocation, but by 22 August fewer than 4,000 had been moved.

Hungary and Slovakia have launched a legal challenge to the scheme.

Hungary will also hold a referendum on the matter later this autumn.

Slovakia, which currently chairs the EU council presidency, vowed to push down the EU agenda discussions on a reform of the so-called Dublin asylum system that would see fines imposed on countries that refuse to take refugees.

Czech Republic and Poland also refuse to cooperate, saying that national governments should be able to relocate refugees on a voluntary basis.

Czech Republic has so far relocated four people from Greece. Slovakia has taken three and Hungary and Poland have not taken any at all.

Meanwhile, Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano told La Repubblica TV on Tuesday that Germany had promised to take ”hundreds of refugees” each month in an effort to save the scheme.

He praised chancellor Angela Merkel for wanting to be on the "right side of history" in welcoming more than a million refugees, even if it might cost her votes.

"We must remember that Germany already took in more than one million migrants in 2015. If it also takes in some of our [refugees] ... the message will be extremely strong, because if Germany can do it, then so can all those who have not put in the huge effort that Germany already has," Alfano said.

Merkel will meet the prime ministers of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia on Friday, at a Visegrad summit in Warsaw.

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Asylum seekers' applications to be rejected if they move around within the EU, under new asylum rules proposed by the EU Commission.

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