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MEPs urge EU countries to take more asylum-seekers from Italy, Greece and Turkey

EU countries must honour their pledges to accept refugees relocated from Greece and Italy, to relieve migratory pressure on these two “frontline” countries, and at the same time discourage irregular entries by opening up legal and safe routes to the EU, MEPs said on Thursday.

n a non-binding resolution approved by 470 votes to 131, with 50 abstentions, Parliament rejected a European Commission proposal to take 54,000 places from a scheme for relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU member states, and use them to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey in the EU instead, as part of the migration deal agreed between Turkey and EU leaders last March.

 Under the Commission proposal, EU countries could deduct Syrian refugees needing international protection who they take in from Turkey from the numbers of asylum-seekers whom they have pledged to relocate from Greece and Italy.

The deal between Turkey and EU leaders requires the EU to take in one Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian returned from the Greek islands to Turkey.

 Parliament objects that the intra-EU relocation scheme should not be mixed up with the resettlement one, which involves a non-EU country. “Resettlement should not take place at the expense of relocation”, says the text prepared by Ska Keller (Greens, DE). MEPs note that the need for emergency relocation from Greece and Italy to other EU member states is expected to remain high, pointing to the urgent humanitarian situation in Greece and the risk of deterioration in Italy.

During the debate in plenary, Ms Keller underlined that the relocation scheme is a true solidarity instrument that “needs to be strengthened, not watered down”. The problem, she added, is that member states are “simply not doing enough” and complained that some countries have not even taken a single refugee.

In the resolution, MEPs stress that even though EU countries have agreed to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum-seekers within two years (two separate decisions were taken in 2015, for 40,000 and 120,000 places, respectively), only a small percentage of people have so far been relocated (see updated figures). They therefore urge EU countries to make available at least one-third of their promised relocation places by 31 December 2016.

 The text also asks that Afghan, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees be made eligible for relocation within the EU. It notes that in 2015, Afghans were the second largest group of asylum-seekers in the EU, with an unprecedented number of around 180,000, many of whom were unaccompanied minors with special protection needs.

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