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EU wants refugee quotas for member states and the UK's not happy

Frances Fitzgerald can’t comment on the issue.

A migrant kisses a baby after they disembarked from the Italian Navy vessel 'Bettica' in the harbour of Salerno, Italy. About 700 migrants were rescued in the Sicilian Strait while they were trying to cross.
A migrant kisses a baby after they disembarked from the Italian Navy vessel 'Bettica' in the harbour of Salerno, Italy. About 700 migrants were rescued in the Sicilian Strait while they were trying to cross.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated: 12.30pm

The executive body of the European Union will propose that countries share responsibility for housing thousands of refugees arriving in Europe from across the Mediterranean.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will propose a “mandatory migrant quota system” on Wednesday under which the EU’s 28 member states will share responsibility for migrants during times of emergency, British newspaper the Times has reported.

“To ensure a fair and balanced participation of all member states to this common effort… the EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states,” the proposal reads.

The number of refugees sent to each country would be decided according to a “redistribution key” based on GDP, population size, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers, according to the paper.

Currently, asylum seekers are the responsibility of the country in which they first arrive, meaning countries close to migrant crossing routes such as Italy, Malta and Greece have complained of shouldering the bulk of Europe’s refugee crisis.

In addition, Juncker will propose the EU resettle an extra 20,000 asylum seekers identified by the United Nations per year by 2020.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy said other EU countries “need to be of assistance to those shouldering most of the burden” but added he “can’t see that there would be appetite for a quota system”.

Murphy said member states “don’t want to get into long, protracted legal wrangling” over whether or not quotas are binding.

He stated that Ireland has agreed to take in a small number of refugees on a trial basis, noting: “The most important thing is that we really focus on saving people’s lives.”

Childrens Family Bills Frances Fitzgerald Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said they can’t comment on the possible content of the European Commission proposals until they are published.

However, they pointed out that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has “expressed her horror at the recent tragedies in the Mediterranean and has reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to working with EU colleagues to provide the best possible response to this extremely difficult issue”.

Ireland has always adopted a humanitarian approach to consideration of leave to remain for applicants seeking protection. For example, over the past 10 years over 30,000 persons who have come through the protection process in Ireland have been granted refugee status and leave to remain in the state under various processes. This is a very large response in terms of the size and population of our Country.

Britain

Britain’s Home Office said the plans were unacceptable and that efforts should focus on stopping people traffickers.

“The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most, but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer,” a home office spokesman said.

“We will oppose any EU Commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota.”

The report follows a meeting by EU defence ministers in France to tackle the increasing flow of migrants making the perilous sea crossing from North Africa that has seen 5,000 people die in the last 18 months.

The Times said the issue would be British Conservative leader David Cameron’s “first battle” of his second term as prime minister, after an election in which over 12% of British people voted for the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

Under pressure from the eurosceptic wing of his own party, Cameron has promised to cut immigration to under 100,000 and re-negotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, before holding an in-out referendum by 2017.

In an editorial, The Times said the plans “pose a direct threat to British membership of the European Union”.

“For David Cameron, now committed to a referendum on Britain’s very membership of the European Union, the timing is laughably poor,” it added.

- with reporting by Órla Ryan

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