The European Union will this week announce plans to redistribute 120,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece, Italy and Hungary, as the bloc moves to address the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will unveil the proposals on Wednesday, saying the best way to cope with the sudden influx of people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and north Africa is to spread them across the 28-nation bloc -- from Finland in the north to Spain in the south.
The EU proposal echoes calls made as recently as Monday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Europe to come up with a common position on refugees. “We will work to make that one of the grand projects of the European Union in the years ahead,” she said.
Support for the plan, which needs to be backed by a supermajority of the participating EU countries, is already dividing the region between east and west. While Germany and France last week demanded a fair distribution of refugees across the region, Hungary and other eastern European governments have argued that the introduction of quotas merely encourages more people to come.
Ministers from the EU countries are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Sept. 14 to thrash out a joint position on the proposal, but reaching a decision may take longer. A plan the Brussels-based commission put forward in May to redistribute just 40,000 refugees took until the end of July for governments to agree on resettling 32,256 people.
That proposal covered refugees who had fled violence and poverty who had arrived in Italy and Greece. The new plan recognizes a new front that has opened to the east, with thousands of migrants entering the EU via Greece and the Balkans into Hungary, many of whom then continue their journey to Austria and Germany.
“Hungary is facing an emergency situation,” EU commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters in Brussels on Monday. “It is now the second-biggest entry point into the European Union, having overtaken Greece in the number of people we are seeing arriving in the country.”
Under this week’s plan, the EU would give governments 6,000 euros ($6,800) for every refugee they accept and would provide 500 euros to the country they are leaving to cover relocation costs, an EU official said on condition of anonymity because the proposals have yet to be made public.
To encourage countries to take in their share of refugees, governments that refuse may have to pay the EU a financial penalty -- with the amount linked to the size of their gross domestic product.
The U.K., Ireland and Denmark have longstanding opt-outs from EU immigration policy and will not be included in the refugee redistribution figures. The U.K. has said it will take in people in camps bordering Syria rather than those who have already reached Europe.
In addition to the redistribution plan, the EU will propose a list of countries that it deems free of political persecution and therefore safe to receive back asylum-seekers whose applications are rejected. The EU list of “safe” countries of origin would include the non-EU nations of the western Balkans and Turkey.
This would speed up the process of deportation for citizens seeking asylum from these countries from the current six months to five days, the EU official said.