EU approves plan to share 120,000 refugees

EU members approve new plans to relocate 120,000 refugees among the bloc, overruling four eastern European countries who remain in great opposition to such arrangements

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Hungary's Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and Belgium's Asylum and Migration State Secretary Theo Francken (R) attend an extraordinary European Justice and Home Affairs ministers meeting to discuss migrants crisis in Brussels, Belgium, September 22, 2015

Twenty-four members of the 28-member European Union have jointly agreed on Tuesday over plans to share 120,000 refugees across the bloc, outvoting four eastern European countries, who strongly opposed the arrangement.

EU interior ministers gathered in Brussels to launch a meeting to tackle the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two, according to diplomats.

The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted that he had voted against such plans, along with Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, with Finland abstaining.

Prague earlier emphasised that any attempts to approve such a scheme would be impractical and could lead to a "big ridicule" for the EU governments and authorities.

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

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico claimed that pushing through the quota system had "nonsensically" caused a deep crack concerning a highly sensitive issue and that, "as long as I am prime minister," Slovakia will not be implementing such a quota.

A refugee on crutches gestures as he walks towards the border crossing with Austria in Hegyeshalom, Hungary, September 22, 2015

The influx of nearly half a million people this year alone, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has plummeted the EU nations into disputes regarding border controls and how to share out responsibility.

Eastern states, known to have no interest of integrating large numbers of Muslims within their population, are worried about the impact of the refugees on their societies have been keen to avoid signals that might encourage even more asylum seekers to set sail across the Mediterranean for Europe.

"If we fail to find the right solution in the long term, the migrant crisis could truly threaten the existence of the European Union. But I am not a pessimist, I believe that we will find joint measures," Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told Reuters in an interview.

EU Ministers hoped to achieve a general agreement at Tuesday's meeting on an issue that has cut through the EU, rather than forcing a vote, that easterners would be stuck in the minority, which could further hurt relations.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that the plan was approved by a "crushing majority."

"This decision is testament to the capacity of Europe to take responsibility and progress," Cazeneuve said.

On the other hand, a diplomat part of one of the countries opposing the plan described the situation during the meeting to be "terrible," adding, "this is a bad day for Europe."

Refugees rest on beds at an improvised temporary shelter in a sports hall in Hanau, Germany September 22, 2015

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the EU’s recently reached decision marks an "important first step in a united European response to managing the refugee crisis."

Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming added that, "this must be coupled with the immediate creation or expansion of facilities in Greece and Italy to receive and assist large numbers of arriving refugees and migrants, and where people would be screened and identified for relocation."

The 120,000 refugees that the bloc was seeking to share out across the continent was equivalent to just 20 days' worth of arrivals at the current rate, Fleming said earlier.

The European Commission stated that the EU was now in a position to relocate a total of 160,000 people - including 40,000 refugees that were covered in an earlier agreement - "in clear need of international protection" in the next two years.

Refugees reaching Greece and Italy have been continuing up north, across the continent in hopes to reach wealthier nations, such as Germany, which has been triggering disputes between EU governments within central and eastern Europe as they alternately seek to block the flow or avert the burden on to neighbouring countries.

Norway has become the latest member of Europe's 26-nation Schengen area, to announce that it would intensify border controls.

This year, Europe should expect a record of one million people to request asylum within its bloc, and almost half would probably be eligible to have their requests accepted, according to reports made by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Germany, which has proven to be by far the most popular destination for asylum seekers, the head of domestic intelligence said that there has been great worry with radical groups, originally residing in the country could try to recruit young refugees "who could be easy prey."

EU leaders plan to hold an emergency summit on Wednesday in which the topic of discussion will be the ramping up aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey including the rest of the Middle East and the possible tightening controls of the bloc's external frontiers.

TRTWorld and agencies