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European Union interior ministers met yesterday in Brussels in the hope of hammering out the details of a European Agenda on Migration, designed to address the Mediterranean migration crisis. The results – and indeed the entire process leading up to today’s meeting – fall far short of what is needed.

The agenda proposed relocating 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece – conceived as a mandatory measure to help alleviate the unfair share of responsibility borne by those two countries for asylum seekers, often fleeing from countries like Syria and Eritrea, who arrive by boat from North Africa and Turkey.

Last month EU leaders said the program should be voluntary, and yesterday ministers pledged to relocate 32,256, not even close to the target number.

Italian coast guard vessel and helicopter during the search and rescue operation underway after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, April 19, 2015, in this video still image. © 2015 Reuters

France and Germany together account for almost half of those pledges. Spain agreed to take in far fewer (a little over one-fourth) than the commission had asked, and Hungary refused to take in any. Poland, a country of almost 40 million people, has offered to take 1,000 asylum seekers under the scheme. This is far below the commission’s request that it take 2,659, based on a formula that took into account criteria like the economic situation, unemployment, and numbers of asylum seekers already in the country. Poland and other Eastern European, as well as Baltic states, argue they cannot handle higher numbers. But political leaders in those countries appear to have been more influenced by domestic politics and anti-immigrant sentiment than genuine concerns about their ability to host asylum seekers.

All of this is taking place as more than 1,000 asylum seekers and migrants reach Greek islands on a daily basis, with the debt-stricken government unable to provide for the most basic needs of shelter, food, healthcare, and basic sanitation. Italy is also scrambling to provide accommodation for the tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who have arrived since the beginning of the year, while xenophobic political groups incite protests against migrant reception centers across the country.

EU countries did agree to resettle 22,504 recognized refugees from other regions of the world, a positive increase over the proposed 20,000 requested by the European Commission, and a big improvement over the pitiful number resettled by the combined 28 EU member states in 2014 – only 8,579. Even so, the new pledge is still less than a fifth of United Nations refugee agency’s estimated global resettlement needs for 2015.

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, representing the current presidency of the EU Council, tried very hard to put a positive spin on today’s agreements. Even so, Asselborn said the results were “disappointing, and in some cases embarrassing.” At a time when the UN refugee agency warns that 1 in every 122 people on the planet is displaced, that is an understatement.


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