Monday 19 February 2018

EU nations must accept share of extra 120,000 refugees, says Jean-Claude Juncker

A man and children play with a ball at a refugee camp in the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija (AP)
A man and children play with a ball at a refugee camp in the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija (AP)

The head of the European Union's executive says 22 of the member states should be forced to accept another 120,000 people in need of international protection.

With the new call to the European Parliament, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said his additional plan would bring the total for emergency relocation to 160,000.

Recalling the lengthy haggling among member states over the spread of the initial 40,000, Mr Juncker said that this time "this has to be done in a compulsory way".

Mr Juncker said he wants his plan endorsed by the member states at a special meeting in Brussels on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also renewed her demand for compulsory sharing of refugees among European Union countries and insisted the migrant crisis is a challenge for every nation in the 28-member bloc.

Germany has taken in more migrants than any other EU country. Mrs Merkel said: "We need a binding agreement on a binding distribution of refugees among all member states, according to fair criteria."

Mrs Merkel said "it would be a step if we achieved what Jean-Claude Juncker is proposing today" but that the challenge is deeper than just sharing refugees.

In an impassioned appeal in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker unveiled a list of new proposals to help Europe confront its biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

"The refugee crisis will not simply go away," he said, noting that some 500,000 migrants have entered Europe this year, many from conflict-torn Syria and Libya. "It is high time to act."

He continued: "We are fighting against Islamic State, why are we not ready to accept those who are fleeing Islamic State?"

Mr Juncker unveiled a new plan for 22 of the EU's 28 states to share 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary, on top of a proposal the EU's executive made in May to share 40,000 refugees from just Greece and Italy. The UK, Ireland and Denmark are not legally bound to take part.

Hungary estimates that more than 160,000 people have crossed its borders alone this year.

The EU's first refugee plan never won full support, and only around 32,000 refugees have been allocated. Hungary was among the countries to reject it, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

On Monday, France threw its weight behind the EU plan by saying it would take in 24,000 refugees this year, exactly the figure the new scheme calls for. The UK, which is not taking part, announced separately that it would welcome up to 20,000 refugees currently in countries outside the EU over the next five years.

This new response marks a shift to rapid humanitarian action as the EU begins to realise that longer-term policy moves are ill-adapted to the scale of the refugee emergency.

Mr Juncker also announced a list of "safe countries" including Albania and Kosovo, from which thousands of people have fled this year.

The "safe country" tag is likely to mean that few asylum applications by nationals from those countries are likely to succeed as these people would be hard-pressed to justify violence or persecution against them.

Long-term, the Commission also unveiled a plan to set up a 1.8 billion euro (£1.31 billion) fund to help African nations better manage their borders and help reduce the number of migrants heading for Europe.

Press Association

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