The European Union on Thursday called upon member states to take up to 6,000 migrants a month from Greece and Italy.
European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said EU nations had taken in fewer than 900 migrants from an overburdened Greece and Italy out of an initial 160,000 they had agreed to relocate. He said some countries had not relocated a single migrant, but he added that a drive to change that was under way.
"And the very first results are positive," Avramopoulos said. "We believe at the end we will achieve this goal. Because let me be very clear: If relocation does not work, the whole system will collapse."
The commissioner spoke at talks in Brussels as EU interior ministers hashed out details of a draft deal with Turkey to tackle the region’s growing migrant crisis.
EU and Turkish leaders hope to finalize a deal next week that would see undocumented migrants returned to Turkey for screening. For each person returned, the EU would agree to take in one Syrian refugee who qualifies for resettlement.
Ankara also wants visa-free travel for its citizens in Europe, more financial aid in handling the migrants and expedited accession talks with the EU.
The draft agreement has raised a number of concerns, including fears voiced by U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that it may see “illegal” collective expulsions of migrants from Greece to Turkey.
Asked about human rights concerns, Avramopoulos said the EU must qualify Turkey as so-called “safe country” for returning migrants.
“What we do with Turkey right now is in compliance with the European Union’s legislation and the international law,” Avramopoulos said.
Several EU ministers attending the Brussels talks expressed caution about doing business with Turkey. Austria’s interior minister noted that Turkey’s visa liberalization demands came just days after the country seized a major opposition newspaper, and she raised questions about the EU's values.