Influential European Union nations France and Germany expressed opposition Monday to new EU proposals to help Italy and Greece cope with a massive influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The European Commission has a plan for sharing 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees over the next two years, many of whom arrive following a perilous sea crossing. The system would see France and Germany take many of them. The French and German ministers of the interior said in a statement that the formula "should take more properly into account the efforts already made by member states regarding international protection, and other forms of assistance."
The commission will propose a permanent system at the end of this year for use during high migration flows, but the two ministers insisted that it should "remain temporary and exceptional."
They also said that front-line countries like Italy and Greece can only expect solidarity from their partners if they "take all the legal and financial measures needed" to beef up the EU's borders to the outside world.
According to the resettlement program under the EU action plan on migration, Germany, one of the largest recipients of asylum applications among EU countries, would receive 8,763, France would take 6,752 and Spain would be allocated 4,288. The rest would be distributed among the other 23 countries. However, Britain, Ireland and Denmark already opted out of the plan with other Eastern European EU countries opposing the resettlement scheme. Member states would receive 6,000 euros per relocated asylum seeker from the EU.
Italy and Greece have been accused by some EU countries of failing to properly screen newly arrived migrants, allowing them to move further north.
The ministers' statement came ahead of Monday's start of a two-day meeting with their counterparts from Italy, Poland, Spain and Britain as well as senior U.S. and EU officials in eastern Germany.
The commission's refugee proposals must be endorsed by member nations and the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, the EU's Frontex border agency said on Sunday that more than 5,000 migrants had been plucked from the central Mediterranean in three days aboard 25 boats coming from Libya and 17 bodies were recovered.
"This is the biggest wave of migrants we have seen in 2015," Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said.
More than 36,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since January. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 1,820 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.
The European plan on migration was adopted by the European Commission on May 13, 2015. Priority was given to the fight against migrant smuggling and prevention of the exploitation of migrants by criminal networks. The action plan underscores the need for "strong cooperation at the EU level, as well as with third countries of origin and transit, strategic partners, international organizations and civil society" to "counter and prevent migrant smuggling, while ensuring the protection of the human rights of migrants."
Compared to Syria's neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency encouraged European countries to do more to share the burden of the international community in the migrant crisis. Even though the number of Syrians who have fled from violence has been increasing, the percentage of refugees heading to Europe remains small with only around 4 percent of Syrians having sought asylum in European countries. Syria's neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – have over 3 million Syrian refugees, a number that is not comparable with the total number of Syrian refugees that have sought shelter in Europe. Ensuring access to asylum for refugees, including at sea and land borders, remains a significant challenge for EU countries as human rights organizations have urged EU member states to fulfill their international protection obligations.