EU to propose mandatory migrant settlement quotas: report

LONDON - The executive body of the European Union will propose that countries share responsibility for housing thousands of refugees arriving in Europe from across the Mediterranean, The Times reported on Monday.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday will propose a "mandatory migrant quota system" under which the EU's 28 member states will share responsibility for migrants during times of emergency, the British newspaper reported.

"To ensure a fair and balanced participation of all member states to this common effort... the EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states," the proposal reads, according to the newspaper.

The number of refugees sent to each country would be decided according to a "redistribution key" based on GDP, population size, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers, it added.

Currently, asylum seekers are the responsibility of the country in which they first arrive, meaning countries close to migrant crossing routes such as Italy, Malta and Greece have complained of shouldering the bulk of Europe's refugee crisis.

In addition, Juncker will propose the EU resettle an extra 20,000 asylum seekers identified by the United Nations per year by 2020, The Times reported.

Britain's Home Office said the plans were unacceptable and that efforts should focus on stopping people traffickers.

"The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most, but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer," a home office spokesman said.

"We will oppose any EU Commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota." The report follows a meeting by EU defence ministers in France to tackle the increasing flow of migrants making the perilous sea crossing from North Africa that has seen 5,000 people die in the last 18 months.

The Times said the issue would be British Conservative leader David Cameron's "first battle" of his second term as prime minister, after an election in which over 12 per cent of British people voted for the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

Under pressure from the eurosceptic wing of his own party, Cameron has promised to cut immigration to under 100,000 and re-negotiate the terms of Britain's membership of the EU, before holding an in-out referendum by 2017.

In an editorial, The Times said the plans "pose a direct threat to British membership of the European Union".

"For David Cameron, now committed to a referendum on Britain's very membership of the European Union, the timing is laughably poor," it added.