BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will consider new refugees reaching Italy and Greece in its migrant quotas, not those already in camps, according to a proposal seen by Reuters to be presented on Wednesday, a concession to EU governments against the plan.
Seeking to share out asylum-seekers fleeing chronic conflict in Africa and the Middle East, the EU executive’s proposals have been met with scepticism from governments that are facing rising anti-immigrant sentiment at a time of economic austerity. But the recent deaths of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean means the bloc needs an emergency response.
In a 23-page draft proposal to EU governments, the European Commission says the plan to resettle 24,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and 16,000 from Greece “shall apply only to persons arriving on the territory of Italy and Greece as from the exact date of entry into force” of the decision.
Italy and Greece must also commit to improving their own system of processing asylum-seekers or sending them back home, and failure to do so would trigger the regulation’ suspension for up to six months. Anyone who has not been fingerprinted cannot be relocated, the draft said.
It prescribes that those who have already arrived will be handled by Italy and Greece and remain there, unless they are sent back. But the proposal represents a shift in principle from dealing with asylum seekers solely in the country where they arrived to distributing the responsibility across the EU.
By starting with future refugees, the quotas may not be filled, or at least filled at a slower rate — an approach calibrated to win over opponents of the plan.
But it still faces resistance, particularly from central and eastern European governments who say they are already taking in refugees from the crisis in Ukraine. Britain, which is opting out of the plan, wants a stronger focus on people traffickers.
“Problems should be addressed where they arise,” said one EU diplomat.
But Italy and Greece, which serve as the main gateway into the EU for migrants from North Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have been clamoring for help to deal with accelerating movement that saw over 600,000 people seek refuge in the EU last year.
Financially-ravaged Greece says it is in no position to house thousands of migrants. But EU officials say its asylum system is also below the bloc’s standards and have criticized what they see as appalling conditions in some detention centers.
Italy says it alone cannot deal with the thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, a country that has descended into anarchy since Western powers backed a 2011 revolt that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
Under the Commission plan, Germany, France and Spain would handle the most asylum applications, with Germany taking almost 9,000 people. Hungary, where the prime minister said the scheme was “bordering on insanity”, would take about 830 people.
In an effort to dissuade economic migrants — those coming to Europe primarily for a better life, only refugees from states deemed by the EU to be known to be facing the worst strife will be taken in — meaning to date Syrians and Eritreans.
Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Mark Heinrich