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Brussels Threatens Penalties as EU States Fail to Resettle Refugees

  • Henry Ridgwell

The EU voted in favor of a plan to relocate refugees stranded in Italy and Greece across the bloc in 2015; but latest figures show European countries have accepted just 8 percent of the 160,000 refugees they promised to resettle.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said Tuesday Brussels will accept ‘no more excuses.’

“Our union is based on two principles: solidarity and responsibility," he said. "These words are not solely moral values, they are legal, binding principles enshrined in the treaties.”

Hungary is among the countries that have refused to take any resettled refugees. It has begun reinforcing its border with Serbia – adding remote monitoring and electrifying sections of the fence – as part of a crackdown on migration. Human rights groups accuse Hungary of criminalizing legitimate refugees and physically abusing migrants, a charge the government denies.

The EU could take Hungary to the European Court of Justice to attempt to force compliance, but Brussels has other options, says Camino Mortera-Martinez of the Center for European Reform, who spoke to VOA via Skype from Brussels.

“So instead of going after a country that is not complying with EU law, you can try to use some other tools to force them into complying – for example, by withdrawing some of the budgets,” she said.

But that could backfire at a time when opposition to the EU is high.

“To me, the critical consequence of forcing countries at the moment to take refugees is a very clear surge in anti-EU sentiment,” said Mortera-Martinez.

Faced with that dilemma, Europe is desperate to halt the flow of migrants.

Germany is among the European states speeding up the deportation of failed asylum seekers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a tougher line ahead of elections scheduled for September, says analyst Professor Werner Patzelt of Dresden University.

“Because migration, even before the euro issue, is the most important problem we have in Europe right now – an obstacle to further integration, and a danger for the internal security situation in Europe,” he said.

The EU estimates that between 700,000 and 1 million migrants are waiting in Libya. Calmer seas in recent days led to a surge in numbers trying to cross the Mediterranean – with nearly 1,000 rescued by the Italian coast guard last Thursday alone.

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