LUXEMBOURG (AP) — European Union nations failed to bridge differences Tuesday over an emergency plan to share the burden of the thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea, while on the French-Italian border, police in riot gear forcibly removed dozens of migrants.
Around 100,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year, with some 2,000 dead or missing during their perilous quest to reach the continent. Italy and Greece have borne the brunt of the surge, with many more migrants expected to arrive from June through to September.
At talks in Luxembourg, EU interior ministers disagreed over how 40,000 new refugees arriving in Italy and Greece should be split up equitably among the 28-nation bloc to ease the load on the two southern nations.
“There is a divergence of views on this matter. There is no common view on whether it should be voluntary or compulsory,” Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said after the meeting.
Past voluntary efforts to host migrants have proved inadequate. The current plan to relocate Syrians and Eritreans over the next two years is politically explosive, however, since it would legally set in stone each EU country’s commitment to host a certain number of refugees. Only about 10 of the EU’s 28 nations support the scheme and even those that do want changes in how the refugee distribution is calculated.
“We know that there is significant resistance in some member states to an obligatory measure,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.
The emergency relocation plan was drawn up after 800 migrants were feared to have drowned trying to reach Italy in April. No other alternatives were presented at the talks, officials said. EU leaders will now discuss the plan when they meet in Brussels on June 25-26, and interior ministers will take the issue up again at their next meeting in July.
“Relocation will only work if all member states participate. Only with a binding system can we make sure that every member state takes a share of the responsibility,” said the EU’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Earlier Tuesday, police in Ventimiglia on Italy’s border with France removed a few dozen African migrants who had been camping out for days in hopes of continuing farther north.
Some migrants protested, grabbing onto signposts, while others had to be carried off by their legs and arms — a violent scene underlining Italy’s contention that the rest of Europe must do more to deal with the migrant crisis. Migrants on dangerous rocks jutting out into the sea were left alone.
“We are human beings. We are not animals,” said Saddam, a Sudanese migrant who watched the police operation Tuesday and only gave his first name. “I know we are black and we come from Africa, but we are still humans.”
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said the scene in Ventimiglia was “a punch in the eye for those who refuse to see.”
His French counterpart, Bernard Cazaneuve, denied that France had closed its border at Ventimiglia.
“When migrants cross borders and it is established that they arrived in Italy, then it is only normal that they return to Italy,” Cazaneuve said in Luxembourg.
In Greece, hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including women and children, protested Monday on the eastern island of Lesvos, demanding better living conditions and faster processing of their asylum registrations. They also want to be housed separately from Afghan arrivals after a fight broke out in one of the island’s camps.
Lesvos has borne the brunt of a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa crossing from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year.
Nicole Winfield in Rome, Raf Casert in Brussels, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Elena Becatoros in Lesvos, Greece, contributed to this report.