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EU agrees to resettle nearly 35,000 refugees from Italy and Greece across Europe

by Beda Romano

European interior ministers found an agreement yesterday to resettle nearly 35,000 refugees now in Italy and Greece across Europe in the coming two years.

The total is below the target of 40,000 migrants. However, in this phase, it's not the number that matters.

There is not only hope that this number increases in the coming months. For the first time, the EU's 28 countries accepted to relocate the refugees across all the bloc, marking a first step toward the reform of the Dublin Regulation.

Jean Asselborn, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Luxembourg, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, announced that the 28 members pledged to relocate a first group of 32,256 refugees.

“We reached an agreement for the first year,” said Asselborn, showing optimism that the allocation promised for this year will be met. The operation depends on the commitment of Italy and Greece to identify all the migrants who arrive in their country.

In the meantime, the ministers decided to distribute 22,504 people, currently housed in migration centers outside of the EU (the total is above the original target of 20,000).

The two decisions came after a long negotiation.

In April, a series of dramatic shipwrecks in the Mediterranean forced the EU to an extraordinary meeting of the European Council, where they asked the European Commission to prepare legislative proposals to counter the emergency.

At the end of May, the communitarian executive body presented proposals to mandatorily resettle and distribute the migrants, after the bloc in April agreed this operations would be voluntary.

Many countries protested, but after long negotiations a solution has been found.

The countries yesterday committed to the number of refugees they will accept. The list was adopted in a resolution, which is considered as a legally binding document.

All countries are taking part in the operation, except in Austria, Hungary, Italy and Greece. The last two were exempt because the goal is just to lighten their burden. Budapest and Vienna have preferred not to participate, noting that the conclusions of the June European summit state that redistribution would take into account the “specific situation of the countries.”

Since they are destinations for migrants from the East, Hungary and Austria are considered in the same situation in Italy or Greece.

Spain, however, which until the very last did not want to commit to specific numbers, promised that will host 1,300 refugees (see Il Sole / 24 Ore on Saturday).

The agreement may disappoint some observers, but is actually an important step forward in an effort to share the challenge of European migration management. Never before had the Dublin Regulation (that responsibility for asylum in the EU falls to the country of first landing) been questioned.

In this regard, the European Commission will present a more comprehensive reform of the Dublin Regulation later this year, as confirmed in a press conference by Immigration Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos.

“Leaving solidarity in the EU dependent on the goodwill of the countries has its limitations,” said Asselborn.

Ireland, exempt from application of the rules in this field, decided to participate in the relocation, welcoming 600 refugees.

“We have obtained a lot more than all the previous governments had ever thought about having,” said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

Alfano also said, referring to the role of municipalities in northern Italy in welcoming foreigners, that at the request of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi he will replace the prefect of Treviso, Maria Augusta Marrosu, who is blamed a controversial handling of a group of immigrants in the province.