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EU Ministers To Hold Emergency Meeting On Migrant Crisis

  • RFE/RL

An emergency meeting of the European Union's interior ministers has been called for September 22 to address Europe's worsening refugee and migrant crisis and continue talks on a plan to relocate 120,000 people who have sought asylum in the countries of Greece, Italy, and Hungary.

The meeting was announced on September 15, a day after EU interior ministers failed to come to an agreement on a refugee relocation plan proposed by the European Council that would require all 28 members of the EU to host a quota of asylum seekers.

Luxembourg, which currently holds the rotating presidency of EU ministerial councils, said after the September 14 meeting that the interior ministers were expected to approve a plan at their next scheduled talks on October 8.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the next day that this would be too long of a delay for an emergency crisis, and that she would call for an emergency summit of all EU leaders for next week if quicker action is not taken.

European Council President Donald Tusk had also said he would summon the leaders of all 28 EU countries for emergency talks if the EU interior ministers fail to agree upon a solution.

Several EU countries – including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary – are opposed to a proposal made by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker on September 9 for the burden of hosting 120,000 refugees to be shared across the EU on the basis of mandatory quotas for each EU member state.

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

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there had been "very heated debates" at the September 14 interior ministers' meeting in Brussels.

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 EU 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 September 14 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," Maiziere 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.

Earlier on September 14, the EU interior ministers had adopted provisional measures on a program proposed in May for the relocation of 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.

'We Just Want Peace'

More than 500,000 migrants have entered the EU since the start of 2015 – many of them trying to escape conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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

On September 14, officials in Budapest reported that a record 9,830 people had crossed into Hungary in a single day – despite the fact that authorities closed an unofficial crossing point and were only letting small groups enter the country through official border crossings.

A Syrian refugee on the Serbian side of Hungary's border fence told RFE/RL's Balkan service shortly after the September 15 laws came into effect that they do not want to register as asylum seekers in Hungary, their country of entry in the EU, as required by current EU legislation on migrants.

He said: “We only need to cross Hungary to other countries. Some people will go to Germany, some to Sweden -- something like that. But [the Hungarians] closed the [border]. Why did they close it? We will not stay in Hungary. We will not take anything from Hungary -- not even a bottle of water."

Another refugee who is fleeing from fighting in northern Iraq told RFE/RL on the Serbian side of the border with Hungary that he wants to go to "any country" where he feels safe.

"That's it. We just want peace," he said. "We don't want anything else."

But new laws came into force in Hungary on September 15 under which any person who enters the country illegally can be jailed for up to three years.

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

Many refugees on the Serbian side of the bordered vowed that they would protest the new laws by remaining gathered on the border.

Still, Hungary said it had detained scores of migrants by midday on September 15 under the new laws and was planning to charge them.

Hungary on September 15 also declared a state of emergency in two of its southern counties bordering Serbia because of the migration crisis, giving special powers to police and other authorities.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he expects a high rate of asylum requests that are submitted to be rejected.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Reuters, AP, AFP, and BBC
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