European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has set out plans to resettle around 160,000 migrants from Italy, Greece and Hungary around the continent.
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg Mr Juncker called for solidarity from the EU’s 28 member states in responding to the influx of refugees from Syria and Libya, telling MEPs: “It is not time to take fright, it is time for humanity and human dignity.”
Speaking a short time ago Juncker criticised member states for arguing amongst themselves instead of acting to alleviate the crisis.
“Have we forgotten that there is a reason that there are more McDonalds living in the US than the entire population of Scotland,” said Juncker.
“There is a reason the number of O'Neills and Murphys in the US exceeds by far those living in Ireland.”
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has said any money that Ireland and other countries spend on refugees should not be included in deficit targets.
“This is a new issue on the European horizon,” said Howlin.
“It’s one that I think every European state will be required to measure up to. Obviously there will be a cost factor in welcoming refugees to Ireland and providing them with accommodation and supports.”
Britain opted out of an earlier relocation scheme for 40,000 migrants launched in May. But Mr Juncker indicated that he wants all EU states to take part in the new programme, saying: “I really hope that this time everyone will be on board.”
His comments will increase pressure on David Cameron to accept voluntarily some of the migrants who have arrived in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean, even if the UK opts out of mandatory quotas because it is not a member of the Schengen open borders arrangement covering many EU states.
In a statement earlier this week, Mr Cameron responded to a wave of public sympathy over photographs of a drowned Syrian child on a Turkish beach by pledging to resettle up to 20,000 people in the UK over five years.
But he insisted they would only be vulnerable refugees from camps in the region around Syria, and not the thousands who have entered Europe by sea and through the Balkans over recent months.
In his State of the EU address, Mr Juncker said that Europe was “sought worldwide as a place of refuge”, and was seen by those fleeing Islamic State in the Middle East as “a place of hope, a haven of stability”.
“This is something to be proud of, and not something to fear,” he said.
He warned that “as long as there is war in Syria and terror in Libya, the refugee crisis will not simply go away”.
“We can build walls and fences,” said Mr Juncker. “But imagine for a second if it were you, your children in your arms, the world you know torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay, no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not go to sea in, no border you would not cross.”
Mr Juncker urged EU member states to adopt the Commission’s proposal to increase the relocation scheme from 40,000 to 160,000 migrants currently in Italy, Greece and Hungary at a summit of interior ministers later this month.