EU migration chief threatens consequences for not hosting refugees

European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

WARSAW (Reuters) - The European Union’s top migration official on Tuesday warned member states against failing to host refugees and help alleviate the pressure on countries like Greece and Italy, which have borne the brunt of arrivals across the Mediterranean.

Dimitris Avramopoulos was speaking in Poland, whose euroskeptic government rejects a mandatory quota agreed on by EU leaders in September, 2015, and has taken in none of the nearly 6,200 migrants allocated to it.

Fewer than 14,500 asylum-seekers have been relocated from Greece and Italy, the first EU countries that many refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa set foot in, under the two-year plan that was supposed to cover 160,000 people and expires in September.

While the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, can sue countries that fail to meet their commitments, it has so far shied away from doing so over immigration, highlighting the political sensitivity surrounding issue.

“It is important for governments to understand that they should be part of it,” Avramopoulos told a news conference in Warsaw. “If some of them do not comply... the Commission has the power, the tools to convince these countries.”

Some 1.6 million refugees and migrants reached the European Union between 2014 and 2016 and how to handle them has been a major point of contention between member states.

Poland’s previous center-right government voted in favor of the quotas. But the current, nationalist-minded Law and Justice (PiS) administration does not want to honor the commitment.

While in Warsaw, Avramopoulos met with the head of the EU’s border agency Frontex, which is headquartered in the Polish capital.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Richard Lough