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Do Not Be Afraid: EU Head Says Continent Must Welcome Refugees

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has outlined a plan for the compulsory distribution of 160,000 refugees across EU member states, calling on the continent to remember its history.
Imagen por Patrick Seeger/EPA

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"Europe today… represents a place of hope. This is something to be proud of and not something to fear." In a passionate 80-minute speech on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged countries across the continent to remember its history and humanity, laying out an emergency plan for the compulsory distribution of 160,000 refugees.


As chaotic scenes continued on Hungary's border with Serbia, Juncker said Europeans should not be afraid but should welcome refugees. Europe was a continent where almost everyone had been a refugee at some time or another, he said, and it was rich enough to cope with a challenge far smaller than the one facing Syria's neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

"The Europe I want to live in is illustrated by those who want to help," he added, denouncing calls to discriminate among refugees according to religion. "Europe has made make the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims. There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees."

A #migrant is stopped by Hungarian police officers as he tries to escape on a field, #Roszke REUTERS/@markodjurica

— Reuters Paris Pix (@ReutersParisPix) September 8, 2015

The former Luxembourg prime minister, whose proposals face opposition from several governments whose interior ministers will meet on Monday, outlined the system by which 160,000 migrants currently in Italy, Greece, Hungary, who are in clear need of international protection, would be divided up between 28 European Union (EU) member states.

The number each country would receive would be calculated according to a formula using objective and quantifiable criteria: 40 percent of the size of the population, 40 percent of GDP, 10 percent of the average number of past asylum applications, and 10 percent of the unemployment rate.


Related: 'We Want Go!': Desperation and Anxiety Plague Refugees Moving Through Hungary

As well as offering better protection for refugees, the EU executive would also improve its frontier defenses and deport more illegal migrants, he said, pledging to improve the management of the bloc's external frontiers, bolster its Frontex border agency and take "steps toward the creation of European coastguard and border guard systems."

He also proposed a "more effective approach to return" — addressing complaints that too many people not entitled to asylum enter the EU illegally and remain there often despite legal proceedings that conclude they should return home.

Listing the migration crisis top among a written list of priorities, before the economy, Ukraine, climate change and a looming vote on Britain's membership of the bloc, he said it was caused by "war, terror and instability in our neighborhood."

Juncker acknowledged the European Union was in a bad state, saying "it is lacking Europe and it is lacking Union".

Our #EU is not in a good state. There is not enough Europe in this Union. There is not enough Union in this Union — Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU)September 9, 2015

He confirmed plans for a common list of "safe countries of origins" whose citizens would be subject to fast-track deportations if they breached EU immigration laws, and urged member states to allow refugees to work from day one while their asylum applications are processed.


Juncker called for efforts to strengthen the EU's common asylum system and a scheduled review of the so-called Dublin system, which stipulates that people may request asylum only in the state where they first enter the EU, straining resources in frontline countries in the south and east.

Related: Through Hell and Hungary: Riding the Rails With Refugees in Budapest

Answering criticism from refugee and migration agencies, he said the EU would "develop safe legal avenues for those in need of protection" — reducing the temptation to risk dangerous sea crossings and smuggling networks — as well as a permanent scheme to resettle refugees from other regions and better protection for refugees living in countries neighboring Europe.

The detailed proposals may provoke new wrangling among EU states and between country leaders and the EU executive.

Former communist central European states vehemently oppose any mandatory distribution of refugees. Juncker reminded them pointedly that refugees fleeing Soviet repression in their countries had been welcomed in large numbers in Western Europe.

And he took a dig at Hungary's building of a frontier fence by saying desperate families fleeing Syria would cross any barrier and brave many dangers to escape their homeland.

Britain has been critical of the EU approach but is exempt from the bloc's asylum policies and will not take part, although Prime Minister David Cameron said this week it would accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years — a proposal fiercely criticized by opposition parties and human rights organizations who pointed out it amounted to just 12 refugees per day over the course of the current parliament.

Spain, which had complained its likely quota was too high, said on Tuesday it was ready to take what the European Union allocated to it.

Related: Some 10,000 Icelanders Are Offering to Relocate and House Syrian Refugees