European Leaders Agree to Relocate 40,000 Migrants

European Leaders Agree to Relocate 40,000 MigrantsEuropean Leaders Agree to Relocate 40,000 Migrants

European Union leaders agreed Friday to relocate 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries over the next two years, in an effort to share the burden of a growing migrant crisis.

EU President Donald Tusk said the agreement was reached after an overnight summit to show “solidarity with frontline countries.”

“Leaders agreed that 40,000 persons in need will be relocated from Greece and Italy to other states over the next two years,” Tusk told reporters. “Interior ministers will finalize the scheme by the end of July.”

French President Francois Hollande said the EU will also resettle 20,000 refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq, who are currently in camps outside the EU, AP reported.

More than 114,000 migrants have been plucked from the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Some 2,600 have died or gone missing during the often-perilous sea crossing.

The EU wants to oblige member countries to share the 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans requiring international protection who are expected to arrive in Italy and Greece over the next two years. But many of the 28 nations are refusing to have migrant numbers dictated to them from Brussels.

The leaders did not spell out any quotas for how many refugees each country will take. EU interior ministers will finalize the plan next month.

Under the plan, migrants not found to be in need of protection will be swiftly returned to their countries to discourage others from making the journey.

Tusk said a final agreement must also include support for Hungary, which has received a third of all EU asylum-seekers since the beginning of the year.

 Italy Upset

The migrant crisis has caused tensions among EU countries, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi made an emotional plea this week to the leaders for help.

However, the UK has opted out of the scheme and nations in Eastern Europe have refused to accept set quotas, so it will be only voluntary, a decision that has angered Renzi, who called the plan “modest.”

Italy has sought more help from its EU partners to handle the thousands of migrants arriving by sea, many of whom are fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria.

More than three million people who fled the Syrian civil war are being housed in neighboring countries, far more than the EU has taken in.

Hungary, which has seen thousands of migrants cross its border by land, and Bulgaria, one of the EU’s poorest countries, have both been granted exemptions.

Britain, Hungary, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Poland had previously opposed mandatory relocation.

The migrant crisis has been high on the agenda for the EU summit, which opened on Thursday.

 Europe’s Shame

Alice Jay, campaign director for rights organization Avaaz, earlier this week described the “Mediterranean graveyard” as “Europe’s shame.”

The European border protection agency Frontex estimated in a report released this week that 153,000 migrants, including those arriving via land, have been detected at Europe’s borders so far in 2015, a 149-percent increase over the same period in 2014.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said more than two-thirds of those migrants had arrived via the Mediterranean. By June 8, its estimate of 103,000 migrants included 54,000 in Italy, 48,000 in Greece, 91 on Malta and 920 in Spain.

According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 1,770 men, women and children have died or disappeared making the perilous journey.