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French MEP calls for solidarity as UK slams EU asylum quota plan

An immigrant tries to jump a fence into a ferry terminal in the Greek town of Patras, April 2015
An immigrant tries to jump a fence into a ferry terminal in the Greek town of Patras, April 2015 Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

The European Commission would like to resettle 20,000 refugees across the European Union as part of a comprehensive migration reform proposal presented Wednesday. The UK says it will have no part in the plan, which France supports. France, along with Germany and Italy, welcome the most asylum seekers in Europe.

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Currently, European countries accept refugees on a voluntary basis under the principle that asylum requests are processed in the country where people arrive, not the country they are aiming for.

But this puts a disproportionate burden on border countries like Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which have called on other European countries to help, especially in the face of a recent influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

“I think it is the responsibility of the European Union and its governments to provide resources and help to those countries,” Conservative UK MEP Timothy Kirkhope told RFI.

But that help should not involve asylum seeker quotas, he says.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker presented a plan to address migration in Europe on Wednesday, part of which involves the resettlement of 20,000 asylum seekers across all of Europe’s 28 member states over the next two years.

Where they go would be determined by a quota scheme based in part on the size of the country and its economic output. Germany would take the most (18.42 per cent), followed by France (14.17 per cent) and Italy (11.84 per cent), if Britain opts out.

In the EU’s Lisbon treaty, Britain, Ireland and Denmark can opt out on matters of immigration and border controls. Britain’s interior minister Theresa May indicated that London would opt out.

Socialist French MEP Sylvie Guillaume worries that the opting out would prompt other countries to reject the plan.

“Some countries might take advantage, and refrain from sharing a real solidarity,” she said, lamenting the lack of mutual support among European countries.

Kirkhope disagrees that this is an issue of solidarity.

“I think all of us understand the humanitarian pressures, and all of us will do what we can do. But I think it has to be done on a voluntary approach,” he says. “I think trying to enforce this through the European Commission is inappropriate.”

The asylum provision is the most controversial part of the migration plan, which will be formally presented to the member states at the end of the month.

“It will be the most difficult, so we have to be warned,” said Guillaume. “But I hope we will speak about other measures included in the plan, on integration, legal routes and the fight against smugglers and traffickers … For many years we have been working on parts of migration issues, and having this kind of holistic approach to migration is betting for the future.”

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