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EU to relocate 30,000 refugees by 2017

September 28, 2016

The EU's migration commissioner has called on member states to "take up their responsibilities" towards refugees. But staunch opposition from the Visegrad group may block advances on relocating refugees across the bloc.

Griechenland Flüchtlinge auf der Insel Chios
Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday said some 30,000 refugees in Greece will be relocated throughout the EU by next year, claiming that the 28-nation bloc has made "significant progress" tackling irregular migration despite internal quarrels.

"The refugee crisis is not over, and this is why the progress of today must be sustained," Avramopoulos said during a press conference in Brussels, unveiling the European Commission's assessment of the migration crisis in Europe.

"The success of our common approach over the last months is essential for the success of everything else; from relocation, resettlement and the EU-Turkey statement, to the gradual return to the Dublin system and a normal functioning of Schengen," he added. 

The EU last year forced through a plan to relocate refugees from frontline countries, including Italy, despite strong criticism from former communist nations, including Poland and Hungary.

The Visegrad group, comprised of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, refused to take in refugees after the measure was passed, prompting a political crisis in the bloc. But Budapest has taken it a step further by scheduling a referendum for October on whether to accept the quotas.

"We have made significant progress as a Union, but we have more work ahead of us - and urgently: All member states need to take up their responsibilities and we will continue to support them," Avramopoulos noted.

However, 30,000 refugees is far below the number of asylum seekers hosted by Germany and Sweden since last year. German is expected to process more than one million asylum applications in 2016, according to its federal migration authority.

'Violating their own standards'

The EU migration commissioner also hailed the bloc's deal with Turkey that has curbed migration from the Anatolian nation.

The number of migrants arriving to Greece from Turkey has dropped dramatically, averaging 85 people a day since June, down from 1,700 daily in March and 7,000 in October 2015.

"Despite challenging circumstances this summer, the settlement has continued to work and remains our number one priority," Avrampoulos said.

However, the human rights groups have criticized the deal, saying it undermines the EU's principles on those fleeing conflict.

"Turkey already hosts over two million refugees, many of whom are struggling to survive and do not see their rights fulfilled as refugees," said Stephanie Gee of Human Rights Watch.

"Instead of trying to pass the buck and violating their own standards, EU government should play their part in global responsibility-sharing and give Syrian asylum seekers a chance to make their claims," Gee added.

Under the deal, the EU will provide Ankara with up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to take back migrants in Greece who do no receive asylum in the bloc and possible visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

Flight and Arrival

ls/kms (Reuters, AFP)