After several meetings the pledge to take 60,000 people - mostly from Syria and Eritrea - still fell short by around 5,000 with some countries refusing to take any and others claiming they had enough from elsewhere.
Ireland was asked to take less than 300 who are in camps outside the EU and another 270 from Italy and Greece, the frontline countries that are finding it had to cope with the influx from across the Mediterranean.
Ireland has a history of regularly taking refugees from UN camps and resettling them in Ireland, which can lead to citizenship and permission to remain permanently.
The European Commission asked countries to take a total of 20,000 over two years and Ireland was among the first to agree with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald offering to almost double the number Ireland was asked to take take.
After the meeting she said, “Ireland has a history of refugee resettlement going back many years. Over the course of 2015 and 2016 we will give 520 refugees from Syria whose lives have been destroyed by war a chance to rebuild those lives.”
The total of 20,000 has been oversubscribed largely thanks to Norway that is outside the EU but has agreed to take 3,500 bringing the total to 22,504.
Countries were also asked to take 40,000 asylum seekers from those expected to arrive in Italy and Greece illegally once the agreement is finalised. But so far they have managed to get pledges for only 32,356 over two years.
Ireland has an opt-out from some parts of the EU’s asylum policy but has agreed to opt-in and was asked to take 270 but has agreed to take 600. The EU will contribute €6,000 for each person to help cover costs.
The Luxembourg ambassador chairing the preparatory meeting told Ambassador Declan Kelleher, “You are a hero today”, while the Luxembourg chair of the ministers meeting yesterday, Jean Asselbloem, told them Ireland was an example of how it should be. He said they would reach the full figure over the coming months.
Minister Fitzgerald after the meeting said: “The scale of the challenge facing the EU in relation to migration is enormous and we have reached a point where Italy and Greece, who are really on the front line, are under unsustainable pressure.
“They can’t be left to shoulder that burden alone just because of their geographical situation. It is important that Ireland join together with our partners to assist in the relocation effort and show solidarity”.
Britain and Denmark also have opt outs and have said they will not take part while Poland was very reticent saying they have many Ukrainians. Hungary has had a huge influx of mainly Kosovaars early in the year but more recently Syrians through Serbia and has started to build a wall to keep them out.
Under the agreement, Kosovaars and those from other Balkan countries will be on a list of ‘safe countries’ whose asylum claims may be dealt with in a fast track manner by EU countries.