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EU Fails To Reach Agreement On Refugees

  • RFE/RL

Syrian refugees walk toward Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on September 14.

Syrian refugees walk toward Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on September 14.

The European Union has failed to reach agreement on a plan to share 120,000 refugees arriving in Italy, Greece, and Hungary.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said late on September 14 after chairing a meeting of EU interior ministers that "it is premature for the council to take a decision today."

Asselborn said that "even though we are in urgent circumstances, we have to follow procedures."

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary had been among the nations opposed leading up to the emergency meeting.

In Hungary, police said a record 9,380 migrants had been captured crossing the border with Serbia on September 14.

New laws went into effect in Hungary on September 15 to deal with the massive influx of migrants from countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

One of the measures makes it a criminal offense, punishable by prison or deportation, to damage Hungary's newly erected border defenses.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there had been "very heated debates" at the interior minister's meeting in Brussels.

"The commission is determined to take action. We will need another council meeting in the coming days," he said.

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak (center) and Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (right) in Brussels on September 14

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak (center) and Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (right) in Brussels on September 14

The binding quotas can be passed by a qualified majority, rather than unanimously, under complex EU rules, but that would be a sign of disunity that the bloc has tried to avoid.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said there was "bitterness" over the fact that a unanimous vote was not possible at the emergency meeting, and that a majority vote would have to be held later.

"Some countries apparently do not feel a responsibility of solidarity in the face of these big challenges. That has to change," he said. "Otherwise, we will have a big problem in Europe."

EU Vice President Frans Timmermans said the "numbers [being accepted] today are much too small" and warned of the growing risk to refugees as winter draws near.

The EU interior ministers had earlier adopted provisional measures on a program proposed in May by the European Council for the relocation of an additional 40,000 refugees who arrive in Greece and Italy during the next two years and are “in clear need of international protection.”

Under that program, the new host countries will receive 6,000 euros (about $6,800) for each refugee they accept.

Other measures still to be finalized after the Brussels meeting included the creation of an EU list of safe countries from which nationals are unlikely to qualify for asylum.

Ministers agreed that the list should include Balkan countries, but the inclusion of Turkey proved controversial because of a recent surge in violence against Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Before the impasse developed over binding quotas, European Council President Donald Tusk had said that he would summon EU leaders for an emergency summit if their interior ministers could not agree to a solution.

France supports the idea of quotas -- as does Germany, the main destination for many migrants.

The emergency relocation plan for a total of 160,000 refugees that was unveiled by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on September 9 is aimed at dealing with Europe’s biggest influx of migrants and asylum seekers since World War II.

Since July, Hungary has become a point of entry into the EU for thousands of migrants each day who have been passing through Turkey into Greece before traveling along an overland Balkan route that crosses Macedonia and Serbia.

Most of those on the overland Balkan route are from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

Hungary on September 14 closed a main informal crossing point that has been used by migrants to cross into EU territory after traveling through Serbia.

After EU ministers failed to agree on redistributing the refugees, Hungary announced that it will also reject asylum seekers entering from Serbia who have not previously sought asylum in its southern neighbor.

"Certainly, as that is the international legal rule, therefore it must be done that way," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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