EU interior ministers set for showdown on refugee redistribution

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EU interior ministers were set Tuesday for a new attempt at thrashing out a deal on the redistribution of 120,000 asylum seekers within their bloc, amid mounting pressure on Europe to deliver a credible response to its migration crisis.

“[Tuesday] will be an important day in Brussels,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who will be chairing the talks since his country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency. “We all know that we have to find a common European solution.”

The continent is contending with its most significant influx of migrants and refugees since World War II, many of them fleeing war in countries such as Syria.

EU nations have been asked to show solidarity with the most affected member states by taking in their share of asylum seekers. While there is support for the concept, EU governments have locked horns over how such refugee redistributions should be carried out.

Central and Eastern European countries – most notably the Visegrad group nations of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland – do not want to see mandatory schemes or fixed quotas under which the EU would decide how many refugees a member state should take in.

“It’s not about figures, it’s about the principle,” one diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.

Some worry that anything decided on the emergency relocation of the 120,000 asylum seekers – which comes on top of an already agreed move of 40,000 people out of Greece and Italy – will set a precedent for a permanent redistribution scheme being sought by Brussels.

There have been suggestions that the interior ministers should overrule the holdouts with a majority vote, but there are fears that such a move would drive a damaging wedge between EU countries.

The ministers will also have to tackle thorny questions such as how many asylum seekers each EU country should take in; which member states they should be moved out of; and whether nations that cannot take in refugees can make a financial contribution instead.

The ministers’ talks come one day before an extraordinary summit of EU leaders, which is supposed to focus on broader migration concerns. But if the ministers fail to strike a deal, the redistribution controversy is likely to spill over into the summit.

“EU leaders have to show leadership and face the crisis head on, not build more barriers and carry on quibbling over quotas,” the human rights organization Amnesty International said.

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