The New York-based charity group International Rescue Committee (IRC) said on Wednesday that Europe should agree to take in 500,000 refugees from the Middle East over the next five years in a legal resettlement programme to curb massive illegal immigration.
"Europe can and must do more," said the IRC, led by former British Foreign Minister David Miliband, which is both a humanitarian aid agency and a refugee resettlement organisation.
"The choice for Europe is not between having refugees and having no refugees," Miliband said in an interview.
"It is whether refugees come in a legal, orderly, managed way or in an illegal, disorderly, smuggler-enriching way," he added.
Miliband said that the IRC proposal was based on the assumption that the number of Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe would keep on growing.
The IRC said in a report issued on the eve of an European Union summit with Turkey on controlling immigration that it was "a fair and achievable minimum target" for the EU to resettle 108,000 refugees a year, half of them from Syria.
EU leaders are due to evaluate a plan to take in one legal Syrian refugee from Turkey for each illegal refugee that Turkey take back from Greece’s Aegean islands.Their aim is to smash the business model of people smugglers and give refugees an incentive to stay put and wait in Turkey.
As the Turkey’s proposal set no upper limit, EU leaders said that one-for-one resettlement goal would be met initially within member states’ existing commitments, which would mean taking in a maximum of 72,000 more people.
Miliband said that while it was positive that the EU was looking towards resettling refugees directly from the region, the one-for-one scheme risked creating perverse incentives for Turkey, since it could only send Syrians to Europe legally if it first let them cross to Greece illegally.
When asked whether it was realistic to expect EU countries facing a backlash against immigration to create a legal resettlement programme on that scale, Miliband said that the scheme had to be large enough to give refugees hope in the region.
Miliband also said that creating such a "legal pipeline for resettlement" was the best way to move from a chaotic to an orderly system that could reassure anxious populations.
On Wednesday, Filippo Grandi from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said that he would ask all countries to agree to take another 400,000 Syrian refugees.
Grandi stressed that the world must do more to end the Syrian crisis.
More than four million Syrians have fled the war-torn country since the crisis erupted and more than six million are displaced within its borders.