EU tells members to speed up refugee relocation
BRUSSELS - EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday he has written letters to member states with a "clear and strong message" to accelerate the relocation of refugees from overstretched Greece and Italy.
Avramopoulos told a press conference he had sent letters to all the interior ministers of the 28-nation bloc after only 497 people were relocated to other member states out of the 160,000 agreed last September.
"That is why I have addressed a letter today to each interior minister with a clear and strong message to remind them that they are bound by the relocation decisions which have to be implemented immediately in light of the emergency of the situation," Avramopoulos said.
"We need urgently to switch gears on relocation," he added.
"The results are very poor. So right now we have to step up our efforts for all member states to do their part."
The European Commission also said it had proposed suspending a third of the relocations that Austria is meant to take in a bid to take pressure off Vienna.
As president of the commission, the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker has championed the relocation scheme, vowing last month "not to give up" on it despite its slow progress.
European sources have blamed the delays on a series of factors: governments trying to screen jihadists in the wake of the Paris attacks, a lack of housing and education for asylum seekers, and logistical problems over chartering planes.
They say some countries are setting unacceptable conditions by refusing Muslims, black people or large families, with Eastern European states the worst for discriminating on religious or racial grounds.