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Germany, Italy push Europe to accept refugee quota

May 20, 2015

Germany's development minister has renewed calls for a quota on the distribution of refugees in the EU. While a Brussels scheme has met with little acceptance, Italy's prime minister has a radical plan to save migrants.

Refugees in the Mediterranean
Image: Reuters/I. Zitouny

During an interview with German breakfast show "Morgenmagazin" on Wednesday, German Development Minister Gerd Müller said that every country in Europe "must participate in this misery and make a contribution."

"Solidarity means implementing a quota solution," the development minister said, adding that the question will decide whether the EU is "capable of action."

Müller also said much more needs to be invested in the refugees' home countries "so they don't hand themselves over to smugglers out of desperation."

Controversial quota

Müller's comments on Wednesday came just a day after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi accused EU countries of backtracking on commitments to accept asylum seekers after the European Commission proposed a quota system to spread the number of refugees arriving in the EU.

According to the quota, which is based on a four-point list of criteria including economic output and unemployment, Germany would take on 18.4 percent of refugees.

German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller (CSU)
German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller (CSU) has urged "solidarity" in the EUImage: Getty Images

"The EU has accepted that the problem is not only Italy's, it has agreed to send ships but now they have to accept the quota system," Renzi told Italian state broadcaster RAI on Tuesday.

For months, Italy and other southern European states have been demanding help from other EU nations, with pressure for action intensifying last month when 800 migrants drowned as a ship sank off the coast of Libya.

Renzi said his country would recover hundreds of bodies that went down when the ship capsized.

"We will go to the bottom of the sea and recover that boat," he said. "There are 500 to 600 bodies down there. The world has to see what happened."

By bringing the bodies back to the surface, critics of the EU's migration plan would be forced to help Italy - and other southern EU members - cope with the migration crisis, Renzi said.

'Out of the question'

The latest proposal from the EU has been dismissed by a number of European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who described the plan as "madness." Similarly, French President Francois Hollande said a quota was "out of the question."

Germany's development minister told German broadcaster ARD on Wednesday that the militarized capture and "neutralization" of tug boats, also suggested by the EU commission, would be "very difficult," adding that thousands of ships on the Turkish or Lebanese coast should also be monitored.

In order to develop a sustainable plan, Müller said a post for the "Special Commissioner for Refugees" in Brussels would be necessary.

According to Frontex, the number of migrants entering the EU illegally almost tripled last year. Of the nearly 170,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Italy in 2014, more than 3,200 lost their lives trying to reach Europe.

During the first two months of this year, arrivals were up 43 percent versus the same period last year, officials have said.

ksb/sms (AFP, Reuters)