Friday 26 May 2017

EU plan to relocate refugees is forced through

Children hold onto a fence as they wait with other migrants and refugees to board a train heading to Serbia after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border near Gevgelija yesterday.
Children hold onto a fence as they wait with other migrants and refugees to board a train heading to Serbia after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border near Gevgelija yesterday.

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

A European Union plan to relocate tens of thousands of refugees from Italy and Greece to elsewhere on the continent has been forced through against the wishes of four eastern European states.

In a highly divisive move that risks splitting the continent, Jean-Claude Juncker's quota scheme was approved by interior ministers despite the objections of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, the Czech interior minister said on Twitter.

European leaders had hoped to find consensus for the plan to move 120,000 people amid a deepening crisis in southern Europe.

However - after days of toxic rhetoric - the plan was driven through the Justice and Home Affairs Committee on a qualified majority vote.

"Decision on relocation for 120,000 persons adopted today, by large majority of member states," the EU's Luxembourg presidency said in a tweet.

"We, Slovaks, Romanians, Hungarians against, and Finland abstained. The resolution was accepted," Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said in a separate tweet.

In recent weeks the debate had shifted from one of numbers to a bitter row over national sovereignty and the right of the European Commission to tell national capitals how many asylum seekers they are obliged to take.

The use of a majority vote fulfils the worst fears of diplomats who said it would cause long-term political damage to the European Union. "It will be a big moment if they do it," said a diplomat.

"There will be blood on the walls and on the carpets."

Speaking in Brussels last night Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "We certainly need an agreement here today, not just for humanitarian reasons, of course, but to show a coherent response from the European Union."

On numbers and the likely voluntary nature of the scheme she said: "Ireland has waived our three-month entitlement to delay the implementation of this so following a decision today we would implement it immediately." This should mean that the first refugees could be arriving here within weeks.

Asylum statistics show that migrants overwhelmingly want to go to Germany. Some 80,935 people claimed asylum there in the second quarter of 2015 -some 38pc of the EU total.

That compares to just 65 people to Estonia, 105 to Latvia, 250 to Portugal and 375 to Romania.

Earlier yesterday Prague had warned that any attempt to approve such a scheme would be unworkable and could end in "big ridicule" for governments and EU authorities.

"We will soon realise that the emperor has no clothes. Common sense lost today," Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec tweeted after the vote.

Dr Jeff Crisp, a refugee expert at Oxford University said: "The question is where people will go to - what will someone who wants to join their family in Gothenburg do when they are told they are going to Lisbon or Poland?"

"The strength of the refugees' wishes is strong and they are determined to go where they want to."

Irish Independent

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