BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union interior ministers on Thursday made a fresh attempt to overcome one of the bloc’s most intractable political problems as they weighed new measures for sharing out responsibility for migrants entering Europe without authorization.
Europe’s asylum system collapsed eight years ago after well over a million people entered — most of them fleeing conflict in Syria — and overwhelmed reception capacities in Greece and Italy, in the process sparking one of the EU’s biggest political crises.
The 27 EU nations have bickered ever since over which countries should take responsibility for people arriving without authorization, and whether other members should be obliged to help them cope.
Arriving for the meeting in Luxembourg, the EU’s top migration official, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said it was an “extremely important day” to resolve what has “been a marathon” issue for Europe.
“Of this marathon, we have maybe 100 meters left. So, we are so close to actually finding an agreement today,” Johansson said. “I expect the member states to be able to do the final extra meters to reach the agreement.”
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“If we are not united, we are all losers,” she said.
Under the existing rules, countries where migrants first arrive must interview and screen them and process the applications of those who might want to apply for asylum. But Greece, Italy and Malta maintain that the burden of managing the numbers of people coming in is too onerous.
Later attempts to impose quota systems on countries to share out the migrants were challenged in court and finally abandoned.
The EU’s presidency, currently held by Sweden, has proposed a system under which countries who don’t want to take migrants in could pay money instead. Figures of around 20,000 euros ($21,400) per migrant have circulated in the runup to the meeting. It remains unclear if the idea will be accepted.
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