Call for refugee quotas for EU members

Call for refugee quotas for EU members

FRANKFURT - Germany and Austria are pushing for urgent changes to the way the European Union distributes asylum-seekers among member states, saying the burden of hosting refugees is not equitably shared under current rules.

Both are calling for a quota system for the 28-state EU to redress the current burden of settling asylum-seekers in a small number of states.

According to EU's statistics agency Eurostat, six EU states accounted for more than three-quarters of asylum seeker applications last year, with Germany at the top of the list.

The call for a quota system comes as the EU faces a growing crisis, with thousands of migrants from conflict-ridden nations in Africa and the Middle East fleeing to the safety of Europe every week.

Front-line states, including Italy, Greece and Malta are being overwhelmed as desperate migrants use rickety boats to try to cross the Mediterranean in what has become a deadly race to reach a better life.

The influx of refugees, many coming from countries where Islam is the main religion, has also been a political lightning rod by disenchanted citizens and right-wing extremists.

Faced with growing anti-immigrant sentiment, many European governments have been reluctant to deal with what has become a very sensitive issue.

Germany's Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has staged street demonstrations to fight what they perceived as the "Islamisation" of the West, prompting condemnation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Europe, though, can no longer ignore the crisis as rising numbers of asylum-seekers head for its shores.

Last weekend, nearly 7,000 people were rescued off Libya's coast by the Italian and French navy boats, tugs and other commercial vessels. Dozens died, aid groups said.

Last month, about 800 migrants died when their boat sank near the Libyan coast, galvanising EU states to ramp up search and rescue missions, particularly as warmer weather is expected to spur thousands more migrants to make hazardous voyages.

EU Commissioners are expected to meet on May 13 to unveil a new plan on managing the migrant influx. A quota system could be one of them and could replace present rules, called the "Dublin Regulation".

"We have right now in the EU what I believe to be a completely absurd Dublin Regulation," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday.

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