EU Said Nearing Political Accord to Take 160,000 Refugees

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How the U.S. Can Help With Europe's Refugee Crisis

European Union governments are likely to agree in principle to shelter 160,000 refugees from crisis zones in the Middle East and Africa, an EU official said.

Interior ministers from the 28-member bloc on Monday will sign off on an existing proposal to harbor 40,000 asylum seekers, and broadly assent to a new plan announced this week to take in 120,000 more, the official told reporters in Brussels on Friday under condition of anonymity.

Germany, France and Spain would take the biggest numbers, with opposition from eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland possibly leaving the EU short of the target by 15,000 to 20,000. EU President Donald Tusk said in a Twitter post he’s “hopeful” of a deal but that he’ll call a summit of national leaders unless there is a “concrete sign of solidarity and unity” at the Monday meeting.

Some countries may eventually accept higher-than-planned numbers to make up for the shortfalls, the Brussels official said. EU governments aim for a final agreement on the quotas at a subsequent meeting on Oct. 8. Under the emergency program, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea will be moved elsewhere in the EU after entering Greece, Hungary or Italy.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he will propose that the EU deploys special forces to defend the bloc’s frontiers in Greece if authorities in Athens can’t ensure border security.

Trains Suspended

“We need swift decisions, immediate action on this,” Orban told reporters in Budapest.

Austria’s national railway, grappling with a new spike in refugees, suspended traffic between Austria and Hungary on Thursday. Service between Budapest and Vienna won’t resume until Sunday, the OeBB railway said on its website on Friday.

Migrants set off on foot after Austrian authorities suspended train service due an overload of the train system at the Austrian border, near Hegyehshalom, Hungary on Sept. 11. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Migrants set off on foot after Austrian authorities suspended train service due an overload of the train system at the Austrian border, near Hegyehshalom, Hungary on Sept. 11. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Authorities also closed the main highway between the two capitals early on Friday after refugees on foot clogged the road. About 8,000 people crossed the border Thursday and thousands more have arrived since, the country’s interior ministry said on Twitter.

Germany -- which has said it expects 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015, nearly four times last year’s figure -- is the end destination of many of those migrants. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said following a meeting in Prague on the crisis that Germany, which supports the EU proposal, anticipates 40,000 refugees this weekend alone.

“We have to invoke EU solidarity,” Steinmeier said.

Wall Building

The Republic of Macedonia, a candidate country to join the EU that shares a border with Greece, announced plans Friday to possibly follow Hungary’s lead in building a fence along its frontier to try and keep out the flood of refugees.

“It’s not a long-term solution,” Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said in a statement. “But if we take seriously what Europe requires from us, then there will be a need for it. Either soldiers or a fence –- or a combination of both.”

Britain and Denmark invoked their special rights under European law to stay out of the quota system, though they are taking in refugees under other arrangements. Ireland, which enjoys the same exemption, said on Thursday that it will house 3,500.

Finnish Interior Minister Petteri Orpo said on Friday that the country agreed to take in the 2,400 refugees allotted to it under the proposal but that the government was doing so voluntarily and that it won’t accept a permanent quota system.

For more, read this QuickTake: Europe’s Refugee Crisis

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