EU Refugee Plan Attacked Ahead of Crisis Summit

EU Refugee Plan Attacked Ahead of Crisis SummitEU Refugee Plan Attacked Ahead of Crisis Summit

A plan to share out refugees across the European Union was rejected outright by the Czech Republic on Tuesday and criticized by a United Nations agency for not going far enough.

Nearly half a million people fleeing war and poverty, two-fifths of them from Syria, have crossed the Mediterranean this year to reach Europe, overwhelming the EU's southern states and plunging them into furious rows over border controls, Reuters reported.

Hours before a meeting of EU interior ministers to discuss the plan to redistribute 120,000 refugees across the 28-nation bloc, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his country would reject any quota system.

He said any attempt to impose such a scheme could end in "big ridicule" for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, and for governments that supported the idea.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the 120,000 people the bloc is seeking to share out were equivalent to just 20 days' worth of arrivals at the current rate.

"A relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilize the situation," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, calling on the EU to set up reception facilities for tens of thousands of refugees at any one time.

European Backlash

Refugees and migrants arriving in Greece and Italy have been streaming north across the continent to reach more affluent nations like Germany, triggering disputes between governments in central and Eastern Europe as they alternately try to block the flow or to shunt the burden on to their neighbors.

Serbia threatened to retaliate on Tuesday after EU member Croatia halted all cargo traffic from its eastern neighbor.

Norway became the latest member of Europe's 26-nation Schengen area, where people can normally travel across frontiers without showing a passport, to say it would intensify border controls.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, said Europe could expect a record one million people to request asylum this year, and almost half would probably qualify to be taken in.

In Germany, by far the most popular destination, the head of domestic intelligence said there was a big worry that extremists living in the country could try to recruit young refugees "who could be easy prey."

Emergency Summit

Amid the recriminations, EU leaders want to focus at an emergency summit on Wednesday on ramping up aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey and the rest of the Middle East and tightening control on the bloc's frontiers.

Officials hope some compromise on the relocation scheme can be found at a meeting of interior ministers on Tuesday, to prevent the summit being consumed by the same thorny issue.

But despite seeking consensus for weeks on the quota plan, diplomats said it was unclear whether a deal could be reached.

Senior officials have voiced growing exasperation with the feuding notably between Germany, which wants governments to accept mandatory national quotas for housing the newcomers, and ex-Communist eastern states vehemently opposed to such demands.

The European Commission backs the quota scheme, but opponents call it a distraction, irrelevant to the problem of targeting aid to the neediest and reducing the numbers risking dangerous sea crossings.

After a failed interior ministers meeting last week, it is clear that the dissenters, notably Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, can be out-voted.

But diplomats said they were working to find consensus to avoid such an outcome, arguing that on such a sensitive issue it could further poison relations in the bloc.

"This is the worst I've ever known things in more than 20 years dealing with European affairs," one senior diplomat said.