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In a rare piece of good news in Europe’s migrant crisis, Portugal and Norway are opening their doors to thousands of asylum seekers. Other countries should follow suit.

Stranded refugees and migrants walk inside a relocation camp as they wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, March 1, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The pledges by the two countries may be a sign that the EU’s beleaguered emergency asylum seeker mechanism – a key ingredient to solving Europe’s refugee crisis – could start finally working.

The emergency relocation plan, adopted in September 2015, was aimed at moving 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU countries. The goal was to reduce the burden on first countries of arrival, but also to create an alternative to the chaotic marches by migrants deeper into Europe.

The new batch of figures released by the European Commission on last week show that Portugal has boosted the number of places it is making available to more than 1,350, a ten-fold increase on it previous offer. This move followed a statement made by Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in a gesture of “solidarity” with Greece.

More good news comes from Norway – not an EU member – with the announcement it is prepared to take 1,500 asylum seekers under the relocation program. On March 2, Commission President Juncker said he “would strongly recommend to the member states of the EU to follow that example.”

The moves by Portugal and Norway are the kind of leadership needed to make relocation work.

The plan has faced multiple obstacles – including slow progress in Greece and Italy to set up the hotspots where asylum seekers would be screened before being relocated.

But another major complicating factor has been that too many EU states have not made places available. So far, only 6,642 places have been made available – 4 per cent of the target.

Only three countries – Bulgaria, Latvia and Malta – have fully met the Commission’s requirement in terms of places made available, and are slowly starting to admit refugees from Italy and Greece.  Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia have all simply ignored their obligations; all other countries remain very far from the objectives set up by the Commission. 

For all its faults, the relocation plan is a viable and immediate plan that would bring relief to asylum seekers and alleviate the pressure on countries like Greece. It’s time for all EU countries to follow Portugal’s lead.

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