EU plan okayed by 'large majority'

Migrants camping under a bridge last Saturday at a site in Calais, France, dubbed the “New Jungle”, where some 3,000 people have set up temporary shelter. Most of the migrants are trying desperately to get to England.
Migrants camping under a bridge last Saturday at a site in Calais, France, dubbed the “New Jungle”, where some 3,000 people have set up temporary shelter. Most of the migrants are trying desperately to get to England. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • European Union (EU) interior ministers yesterday approved by a "large majority" a plan to relocate 120,000 refugees around the bloc but only after overriding fierce opposition from central and eastern European countries.

"Decision on relocation for 120,000 persons adopted today, by large majority of member states," the EU's Luxembourg presidency said in a tweet.

"We, Slovaks, Romanians, Hungarians against, and Finland abstained. The resolution was accepted," Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said in a separate tweet.

Countries in favour of the plan were hopeful of a consensus being reached ahead of a full summit of the bloc's 28 leaders today.

But United Nations refugee agency UNHCR criticised the plan for not going far enough, pointing out that the 120,000 people the bloc was seeking to share out were equivalent to just 20 days' worth of arrivals at the current rate.

More than 430,000 people have already braved dangerous sea crossings and arduous land treks to make it into Europe this year, heaping pressure on countries along the migrant trail, some of which have closed their borders, while others have diverted the flow elsewhere.

Top diplomats from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, all of whom have rejected the EU proposal for binding refugee quotas, met in Prague on Monday with their counterpart from Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency.

Despite their opposition to the proposal, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek insisted they were "absolutely dedicated" to reaching an agreement with fellow EU nations, acknowledging the need for "joint collective action to accelerate the solution to the still very painful situation".

Battles over who should help the refugees played out yesterday, with Germany halting train traffic from Salzburg in neighbouring Austria, the European Commission pleading for a "comprehensive solution" and EU member Croatia shutting a highway crossing on the border with non-member Serbia.

"This is Croatia's brutal attack on Serbia and an attempt to destroy the Serbian economy," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Belgrade.

In response, Croatian Premier Zoran Milanovic accused its eastern neighbour of making a pact with Hungary to channel migrants through Croatian territory instead of an earlier route through Hungary.

While there were fewer disorderly scenes at the EU's external frontiers, the Hungarian government threw the problem back at other European capitals.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'EU plan okayed by 'large majority''. Print Edition | Subscribe