EU Parliament okays refugee relocation plan

Migrants waiting for a bus at the closed border crossing between Serbia and Hungary on Sept 17, 2015.
Migrants waiting for a bus at the closed border crossing between Serbia and Hungary on Sept 17, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

Support for proposal to share 120,000 refugees puts pressure on ministers

BRUSSELS • The European Parliament yesterday backed a plan to relocate 120,000 refugees around the European Union (EU) to help the front-line states of Greece, Hungary and Italy, in a move that raised pressure on ministers to adopt the proposal next week.

In an emergency vote called after EU interior ministers failed to back the scheme on Monday, lawmakers approved the plan by the European Commission - the EU's executive - by 372 votes to 124 with 54 abstentions. The interior ministers will meet again next Tuesday to discuss the plan.

Parliament had to approve the plan but would normally have done so after European Union states had rubber-stamped it.

"We are very grateful to the European Parliament for understanding the urgency of this matter," European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said before the vote in Brussels.

Mr Timmermans said the vote meant that both the commission and Parliament "can say to the council that the moment to act is now", referring to the European Council, the 28-nation bloc's minister-level body.

PUSH FOR ACTION

The speed with which the European Parliament is giving its opinion is obviously down to the extreme urgency.

A SPOKESMAN FOR THE OFFICE OF PARLIAMENT HEAD MARTIN SCHULZ

"The speed with which the European Parliament is giving its opinion is obviously down to the extreme urgency," said a spokesman for the office of Parliament head Martin Schulz.

Fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, nearly 500,000 migrants have flooded into Europe and EU member states have until now only agreed to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

The commission praised the Parliament for resorting to an emergency procedure to vote in favour of the Brussels plan just a week after it was first unveiled.

"The path is now clear for the council to adopt our proposal," it said in a statement.

Hopes of a unanimous deal collapsed in the face of opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania at the crisis meeting in Brussels, officials said.

A German Cabinet minister said on Tuesday that the EU should consider financial penalties against countries that refuse to take their share, drawing angry responses from countries which oppose quotas, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk has summoned European Union leaders to an extraordinary summit next Wednesday to discuss migration and the proposed scheme to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers across the 28-nation bloc.

"I convene an extra EUCO (summit) on Wednesday, 23 September, at 18h (1600 GMT) to discuss how to deal with the refugee crisis," Mr Tusk said in a tweet.

In another development, the head of Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees has resigned for personal reasons after being criticised for being slow in processing applications from a record number of asylum seekers.

The office had repeatedly come in for criticism amid a huge backlog in handling a record wave of asylum requests as Europe faces its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

German police said the number of refugees arriving in Germany more than doubled on Wednesday to 7,266.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'EU Parliament okays refugee relocation plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe