Germany and Sweden called Tuesday for fellow European Union countries to accept a system of quotas to ensure a fair distribution of refugees across all 28 member states, with no maximum limit on the overall number the bloc will receive.
Current EU rules require that people fleeing war and persecution apply for asylum in the first member state they reach. This has overwhelmed some countries on the EU’s outer borders, leading them to encourage migrants to keep traveling to countries such as Germany.
“We need binding quotas for refugees who have the right to asylum so they are fairly distributed according to strict principles among the member states,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to put forward a proposal for a quota system Wednesday that Merkel said would be a first step, though a final agreement was likely still far off. The plan is expected outline how EU can share more than 120,000 people fleeing conflict zones like Syria.
“This is a challenge that will decide the future of Europe, whether we are accepted as a continent of values and individual freedom,” Merkel said. “In this question, where the whole world is looking to us, we can’t simply say Syria is too far away, we’re not going to deal with the problem.”
The open-ended quota system envisaged by Germany and others would take into account a receiving country’s population size, economic prowess and unemployment. German officials anticipate some 800,000 asylum requests this year, and Merkel’s deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, has said the country can sustain “something in the order of a half-million for a few years.”
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Spain will accept the number of refugees which is recommended by the executive arm of the EU.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he was disappointed some countries were ignoring their responsibility to help those in need.
“If people knock on the door who are fleeing from war, terror, rape, then we have to open the door,” he said. Sweden is widely considered among the most welcoming countries toward asylum-seekers.
The Dutch government is making an extra 110 million euros ($123 million) available to help fund safe migrant accommodation near Syria.
Dutch Junior Security and Justice Minister Klaas Dijkhoff also is appealing for better cooperation in dealing with the surge in people pouring into Europe.
Dijkhoff says that in the short term “the only solution is a fair division of all asylum requests made in the EU according to a binding contribution per member state” — as proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the longer term, the government wants to invest more in migrant centers in North Africa and the Middle East where asylum requests can be processed. He says migrants who try to enter Europe without having their applications dealt with elsewhere should be sent back.
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES OPPOSED
On Monday, the Danish government published advertisements in four Lebanese newspapers warning migrants seeking to enter Denmark to go elsewhere.
An English-language version of the ad, published in Lebanon’s The Daily Star said: “Denmark has decided to tighten the regulations concerning refugees in a number of areas,” The Local dk reported.
English version of the Danish advertisement:
— The Local Denmark (@TheLocalDenmark) September 7, 2015
Many eastern European and Baltic nations — former Soviet satellites with little multicultural experience — also oppose being told to host these newcomers on their soil.
“Any proposal leading to introduction of mandatory and permanent quotas for solidarity measures would be unacceptable,” the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland said in a joint statement last week.
They have already rejected a previous EU attempt to share 40,000 refugees, only a fraction of what Juncker is seeking now.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said countries opposed to taking in refugees under an EU-wide quota system should suffer financial penalties.
Faymann says it is “unacceptable that some nations, because they are not personally affected, refuse to work on a joint solution” to the influx of migrants into the EU.
His comments appear to be aimed at countries like Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which oppose accepting refugees under a quota system.
BAN KI-MOON: COUNTRIES OUTSIDE EUROPE SHOULD DO MORE
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative on migration says it’s “not enough” for countries like the United States and wealthy Persian Gulf states to give money to help Syrian refugees — they must take them in, too.
Peter Sutherland told reporters in Geneva that Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have taken in some 4 million Syrian refugees.
Sutherland said: “Buying your way out of this is not satisfactory.”
He added that the U.N. refugee agency and other aid groups are vastly underfunded. The UNHCR says it has received only 41 percent of its funding needs for the Syria crisis this year.
Sutherland said: “Proximity doesn’t count, capacity does count, and I do say that taking refugees is separate from giving money.”
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