EU plans to destroy the boats of smugglers bringing desperate migrants across the Mediterranean and share the refugee burden more evenly came under fresh fire last night from within and outside the EU.
In an effort to help manage more than 80,000 people who have landed on European shores so far this year, mostly in Italy and Greece, the European Commission is proposing to relocate thousands of refugees to other member countries and wants to launch a security operation in the Mediterranean to eliminate the trafficking operations.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed doubts about the plan to destroy boats, saying “the priority should be given to life-saving and strengthening search and rescue”.
Ban was also cool towards any EU security operation that would hunt down smugglers in Libyan territorial waters, describing the idea as “limited”. “We need to address all of this in a comprehensive way,” he said.
The EU is seeking legal backing for the security operation in the form of a UN Security Council resolution. It would also require the support of Libya.
Meanwhile, the Polish government voiced opposition to the commission’s proposal that it accommodate more than 2,600 refugees from Syria and Eritrea.
“Poland wants to accept [refugees], but we don’t want to agree to specific numbers,” a government spokeswoman said.
The refugee relocation plan involves sharing 40,000 refugees in total who land in Italy and Greece. Under a weighted index based on economic strength, unemployment rates, and past investment on migration, Germany, France, and Spain would take in the biggest numbers.
A spokeswoman for the Polish interior ministry said that “member countries should independently decide how many refugees they are able to accept”.
EU nations can still veto the plan. Ministers will discuss it at their meeting in Luxembourg on June 15-16.
Both Rome and Athens, which are struggling with the wave of migrants, appealed to the 26 other EU states to share the burden.
“We... have a proposal for an emergency mechanism to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers to other European (member) states,” said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
“Syrians and Eritreans will be relocated from Italy and Greece to other European Union member states over a period of two years.”
The measure concerns people arriving in those countries after April 15 this year, he said.
Many member states have strongly objected to quotas. Avramopoulos said: “It’s up to each member to decide how many refugees they will grant refugee status [to].“If countries want to relocate or settle more, they can, but we want to ensure minimum solidarity.”
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