European Union leaders have been called to an emergency summit to seek long-term responses to the continent’s refugee crisis.
Topics include increasing assistance to EU member nations that are receiving the brunt of the refugee influx and greater co-operation with non-EU countries in the Balkans and Turkey, which is now home to almost 2 million refugees.
EU President Donald Tusk, who recently visited the Middle East, also wants to discuss diplomatic efforts to end the Syria conflict.
Mr Tusk says contributions to the UN’s World Food programme need to be increased to help it provide supplies to 11m people in Syria and the region.
“There is a long list of issues where we could blame one another, but it will not help us in finding a common solution,” he said in a letter to EU presidents and prime ministers. “Today we must absolutely work out policies that we can implement in order to help each other.”
The 28-nation EU has agreed to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers to ease the strain on Greece and Italy. But the decision has exposed divisions within the group, with four countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary - voting against it.
Even after the EU plan was adopted, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka denounced it as a bad decision, and his Slovakian counterpart hinted that his government might not enforce it.
Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, said the figures were “accepted by the member states on a voluntary basis”.
“A decision is a decision regardless of the way you voted,” The European Commission’s vice president, Frans Timmermans, said. “The decision is legal, it’s valid and it binds all member states.”
The arrival of an estimated 500,000 people this year has forced countries to crack down on border security and prompted Hungary to build a barbed wire fence.
Mr Tusk said he recognised EU countries have “different experiences and perceptions” and that there are “no easy solutions”. But he said the bloc must reach agreement on a comprehensive strategy and sound migration policy to deal with a challenge that he said will last for years. The crisis, he said, is a test of Europe’s “humanity and responsibility”.
“The current ’migration policy’ is a sum of despair of the victims fleeing war and persecution, of their determination in searching for a better life, of the cynicism of the smugglers, and too often, of the refugees’ and migrants’ tragic fate,” Mr Tusk said.
Before the summit, the European Commission’s top official in charge of relations with the bloc’s neighbours said that he hoped 1 billion euro could be found for a “trust fund” to help Syrian refugees.
Johannes Hahn, also said that the European Commission is in discussions with Turkey about freeing up some of the funds earmarked for the country’s EU membership process to use for dealing with the refugee influx.
“We could raise up to €1bn over the next two years for Turkey,” he said.