The European Union has forged ahead with a controversial plan to introduce refugee quotas to help countries struggling with an influx of migrants, despite opposition to the scheme.
The EU’s executive commission sees the quota plan as key to forcing the bloc’s countries to show solidarity with frontline partners such as Italy, Greece and Malta. Only five countries handled almost two-thirds of EU asylum applications last year.
However, under special agreements, Britain, Ireland and Denmark would not be obliged to take part in the scheme. And some countries, including Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia, have already rejected the idea, meaning it is unlikely to pass.
The scheme would see maximum refugee levels set for each country, based on population, GDP and employment levels.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the UK would take no part as it would only encourage more people to make the dangerous sea crossing and risk their lives.
She said: “We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys, or which makes it easier for the gangs responsible for their misery.”
But European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said: “What will make the situation worse is doing nothing.” He expressed hope that the governments would carefully study the agenda unveiled by the Commission yesterday.
He said: “If we do adopt these measures comprehensively, I wonder how anyone can maintain that this would make the situation worse.”
Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, welcomed the quota scheme. He said: “The Dublin ‘wall’ could fall if we reach approval of obligatory quotas for migrants that each country must take in.” The EU’s “Dublin system” of laws dictates asylum-seekers must be processed in the country where they first land.
Officials from Malta also supported the plan, which would evolve from a “temporary distribution mechanism” that the EU will propose as an emergency step to share out refugees wherever there is a mass influx.
Maltese politician Roberta Metsola said: “We have called for a fair system of distribution of beneficiaries of international protection, once a certain threshold has been reached, from those member states under the most pressure, and as the Commission has recognised this should happen sooner rather than later.”
Germany has taken the most refugees in Europe from Syria, and a top immigration official in Berlin expressed regret that some EU nations are opposed to the quota scheme.
Aydan Ozoguz said: “The answer to rising refugee numbers cannot be to reject a common asylum policy for fear of strengthening populists.
“Refugees and immigration are core EU issues; every EU member state has a legal and moral obligation to make its contribution.”