Refugee crisis: EU ministers agree on draft plan to relocate 120,000 people

European Union ministers have agreed to a draft proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees across the continent that will be presented at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, a media report says.

Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary vote against plan, while Finland abstains

European Union ministers have agreed to a draft proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees across the continent 1:58

The European Union approved a plan on Tuesday to share out 120,000 refugees across its 28 states, overriding vehement opposition from four ex-communist eastern nations.

Diplomats said interior ministers meeting in Brussels had voted to launch the scheme, backed by Germany and other big powers, in order to tackle the continent's worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The plan is expected to be presented to a summit meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday at which they want to focus on ramping up aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey and the rest of the Middle East and tightening control of the bloc's external frontiers.

The Czech minister tweeted that he had voted against the plan, along with colleagues from Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Finland abstained.

Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn, right, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, centre, and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arrive for a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels on Tuesday. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)

Prague had earlier warned that any attempt to approve such a scheme would be unworkable and could end in "big ridicule" for governments and EU authorities.

"We will soon realize that the emperor has no clothes. Common sense lost today," Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec tweeted after the vote.

This year's influx of nearly half a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has plunged the EU into disputes over border controls and bitter recriminations over how to share our responsibility.

Eastern states with no tradition of integrating large numbers of Muslims are anxious about the impact on their societies and keen to avoid any signal that might encourage even more desperate people to set sail across the Mediterranean for Europe.

Migrants rest in a stadium used for traditional Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling, waiting to cross to Europe near Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria, in Edirne, Turkey, Tuesday. An emergency EU summit on Wednesday will consider how to help Turkey cope with the tidal wave of people fleeing Syria and Iraq. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)

"If we fail to find the right solution in the long term, the migrant crisis could truly threaten the existence of the European Union. But I am not a pessimist, I believe that we will find joint measures," Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told Reuters in an interview.

Ministers had hoped to achieve consensus at Tuesday's meeting rather than ramming through a vote in which the easterners would be in the minority, fearing this could further poison relations.

Hours earlier, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the 120,000 people the bloc was seeking to share out were equivalent to just 20 days' worth of arrivals at the current rate.

Migrants, who were blocked at a bus station, rest as they walk down a highway towards Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria, early morning in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday. (Omer Kuscu/Associated Press)

"A relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilize the situation," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, urging the EU to set up reception facilities able to handle tens of thousands of refugees at a time.

Refugees and migrants arriving in Greece and Italy have been streaming north across the continent to reach more affluent nations such as Germany, triggering disputes between governments in central and eastern Europe as they alternately try to block the flow or shunt the burden on to their neighbours.

Norway became the latest member of Europe's 26-nation Schengen area, where people can normally travel across frontiers without showing a passport, to say it would intensify border controls.

Syrian refugees arrive at the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey in an inflatable dinghy Monday. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Europe could expect a record one million people to request asylum this year, and almost half would probably qualify to be taken in.

In Germany, by far the most popular destination, the head of domestic intelligence said there was a big worry that radical Islamists living in the country could try to recruit young refugees "who could be easy prey."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.