The European Court of Justice ruled that the EU was entitled to order national governments to take in quotas of mainly Syrian refugees relocated from Italy and Greece.

The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014.
The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. (AFP)

The European Union's highest court dismissed complaints on Wednesday by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy, upholding Brussels' right to force member states to take in asylum seekers.

Hungary called the ruling "appalling" while Slovakia said it respected the decision but would not change its stance on the refugee scheme.

In the latest twist in a dispute that broke out two years ago when more than one million migrants poured across the Mediterranean, the European Court of Justice found that the EU was entitled to order national governments to take in quotas of mainly Syrian refugees relocated from Italy and Greece.

"The court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers," the Luxembourg-based court said, adding it rejected the complaints "in their entirety."

"The mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate."

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood has the background on the story.

The programme set up by the executive European Commission was approved by majority vote of member states in the face of opposition from formerly communist countries in the east who said their societies could not absorb the immigrants.

It provided for the relocation of up to 120,000 people, but only about 25,000 have so far been moved. A further programme for resettling people directly from outside the EU has also struggled to hit targets for taking in asylum seekers.

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted: "Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full." The Commission's chief spokesman, however, denied a report that the executive would propose a new round of 40,000 relocations.

Germany urges swift action

It is unclear how far Brussels may try to force eastern states to take refugees, many of whom themselves are reluctant to settle in the poorer, ex-Soviet bloc. 

However, countries like Germany and Italy, which are housing large numbers, have said the easterners are jeopardising western-funded EU subsidies if they go on refusing, adding to deep strains in the bloc as it deals with Britain's imminent exit and a still limping economy.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the ruling, and urged swift action from member states.

"I always said to our eastern European partners that it is right to clarify questions legally if there is doubt. But now we can expect all European partners to stick to the ruling and implement the agreements without delay," Gabriel said in a statement.

The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. But, after a mass influx in 2015, numbers have gone down steadily following actions last year that all but closed the route from Turkey to Greece and from Greece to the Balkans and northern Europe. The EU has also increased support for Libya to curb arrivals in Italy.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies