BRUSSELS: European Union ministers approved a plan Tuesday to relocate 120,000 refugees across Europe in an effort to take some of the burden off nations such as Greece and Italy, which see thousands land on their shores daily.
The meeting focused on allocating migrants throughout the EU and came on top of the relocation of 40,000 refugees in Greece and Italy. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against the proposal, and Finland abstained, Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec tweeted.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the agreement “an important step” approved by a “crushing majority” of the 28 ministers present. “This decision is testament to the capacity of Europe to take responsibility and progress,” he said.
The 120,000 migrants represent a fraction of those streaming into Europe in recent months. The United Nations refugee agency said 477,906 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year. It called for the EU to go beyond relocating 120,000 refugees, saying it expects the plan will need to be expanded.
“This may be the last opportunity for a coherent European response to manage a crisis that is increasing suffering and exploitation of refugees and migrants and tension between countries,” António Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement. “A relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilize the situation.”
EU leaders will gather for a meeting Wednesday in Brussels on how to deal with Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Hundreds of thousands have fled conflict in countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to discuss that summit, his office said.
The two leaders agreed the EU should “consider its broader response to the crisis, particularly what more it can do to enable Syria’s neighbors to cope with the influx of refugees; how it can support a political process in Syria; and what further assistance can be provided to strengthen Europe’s external borders,” the statement said.
The statement said Cameron was expected to discuss the same issues with French President Francois Hollande in Britain on Tuesday.
Hundreds of refugees camped near the Turkish border with Greece on Tuesday. The mainly Syrian refugees stayed at a wrestling arena in the city of Edirne, about five miles from the Greek border, in the hope of moving on to Greece or Bulgaria and avoiding the alternative and dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, the Associated Press reported.
In a report published Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said migration is rising, and Germany is second to the USA in the number of migrants it receives. Germany expects at least 800,000 refugees this year.
In its International Migration Outlook 2015, the OECD — which has 34 member countries including the United States — said, “Building consensus among European countries to identify and agree on ad hoc emergency solutions has proven particularly challenging, in part because of expected negative reactions in public opinion at the national level.”
The report says most resources are devoted to addressing the humanitarian crisis, and legal migration systems need to be constantly adjusted.
“Most migration to Europe and the OECD still occurs through legal channels and is managed in an orderly fashion,” the report says, adding that public policies need to support the integration of immigrants and their children, including training.
Hungary’s parliament passed new powers Monday, allowing the army to be deployed to deter refugees at its borders and use non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas.
The move came after the Hungarian government placed advertisements in Lebanese and Jordanian newspapers warning migrants they could be jailed if they enter the country illegally. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said millions of migrants are “laying siege” to Europe’s borders.