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European Union forges ahead with quota plan for migrants

May 13, 2015

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union forged ahead Wednesday with a plan to ease pressure on nations dealing with an influx of Mediterranean migrants by requiring other countries to share the burden, despite some strong opposition.

The proposed system would set maximum refugee limits for each country in the EU based on population, employment levels and other factors. The exact details have not been hashed out, but the general idea is that once a country reaches its maximum, migrants seeking asylum there could be sent to other countries, which would have to take them in.

“It is not acceptable for people around the EU to say, ‘Yes, stop people dying in the Mediterranean,’ and at the same time remain silent when the question is raised, ‘What should happen to these people?’” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.

Countries including Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia have already rejected the plan, meaning it is unlikely to pass without major caveats and concessions.

But the EU’s executive commission sees it as key to forcing the 28 European Union countries to show solidarity with Italy, Greece and Malta, which have been overwhelmed this year by migrants fleeing war and poverty in places like Syria and Eritrea who arrive on their shores after dangerous trips across the Mediterranean.

British interior minister Theresa May said her country would not take part in a quota system as it would only encourage more people to risk their lives. Britain, Ireland and Denmark would be exempt anyway under special agreements.

“We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys — or which makes it easier for the gangs responsible for their misery. That is why the U.K. will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation,” May wrote in The Times of London.

Timmermans said that “what will make the situation worse is doing nothing,” and expressed hope that the British government would carefully study the agenda for tackling the problem the commission unveiled Wednesday.

Separately from the quota scheme, the commission will also recommend at the end of May that 20,000 people who are eligible for asylum be allowed to enter the EU and be distributed among member countries.

That resettlement proposal is part of a broader migration agenda made public by the commission Wednesday laying out a calendar for new action and proposals for mobilizing funds, resources and EU border, police and asylum agencies.

In two weeks, the commission expects to propose a “temporary distribution mechanism” to more equitably distribute refugees among EU countries in times of extraordinary migration movements. That mechanism would evolve and, by the end of the year, form the basis of the EU’s quota plan, which is supported by officials in Italy and Malta.

“We have called for a fair system of distribution of beneficiaries of international protection, once a certain threshold has been reached, from those member states under the most pressure, and as the commission has recognized this should happen sooner rather than later,” said Maltese EU lawmaker Roberta Metsola, a lead member of the European Parliament on migration.

Peter Sutherland, the U.N.’s special representative for international migration, welcomed the plan.

“In particular, the proposed relocation and resettlement programs, based on a distribution key, promise to offer safer legal avenues to asylum seekers and to distribute responsibility for providing international protection more equitably across the EU,” he said in a statement. “I expect that the resettlement target of 20,000 will increase over time.”

Germany, along with Sweden and France, has taken in the most refugees from Syria — including many accepted willingly from camps outside Europe — and a top immigration official in Berlin expressed regret that some EU nations are opposed to the quota scheme.

“The answer to rising refugee numbers cannot be to reject a common asylum policy for fear of strengthening populists,” Aydan Ozoguz said in a statement. “Refugees and immigration are core EU issues; every EU member state has a legal and moral obligation to make its contribution.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europe to take in more migrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq, saying his own country has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis and has been sheltering some 2 million people.

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