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The European Union Still Can't Agree on How to Relocate Migrants Stuck in Greece and Italy

The 40,000 figure comprises of mostly Syrian and Eritrean refugees, and was decided on at a meeting in Brussels after some 900 people died in the Mediterranean's largest disaster this year.

by Sally Hayden
Jul 21 2015, 11:30am

Photo by Yannis Kolesidis/EPA

VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

European Union (EU) ministers have failed to reach a promised agreement about how to redistribute 40,000 migrants from overburdened Italy and Greece.

The 40,000 figure comprises of mostly Syrian and Eritreans, and was decided on amid the outcry after some 800 people drowned in the Mediterranean's largest disaster this year.

Both Italy and Greece — in the middle of its own consuming financial crisis — have appealed for other European countries to step in and alleviate some of the strain being caused by the consistent influx of refugees from war-torn parts of Africa and the Middle East.

During a meeting in Brussels on Monday, European Home Affairs ministers pledged to relocate 32,256 migrants, beginning in October.

Germany said it would take 10,500 asylum seekers and 1,600 migrants, while France offered to accept 6,752 asylum seekers and 2,375 migrants. Other countries that stepped up included Ireland, Denmark, and the UK.

European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that the remaining 8,000 would be allocated by the end of the year. 

"I'm disappointed this did not happen today," he said, "but it was a very important step forward."

Related: Migrants Suffer as Greek Islands Buckle Under Dual Crises

As these negotiations continue, more migrants continue to arrive in Europe each day.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told VICE News that approximately 5,000 people have made it to the Greek island of Lesbos over the past few days. These came mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and were now living in unmanaged camps lacking basic assistance. On the Greek island of Kos, 700 people are sleeping each night on the floor of an overcrowded, dilapidated building.

"The current situation is a violation of Greece's and the EU's obligations towards asylum seekers and migrants," said Stathis Kyroussis, MSF's head of mission in Greece. 

"Given the deep economic crisis that Greece is facing, it cannot be assumed that it can cope with this alone. The EU and its member states should urgently deploy humanitarian resources, including emergency funding and material assistance, to support Greece in responding to the basic needs of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers."

Gemma Parkin, a spokesperson for Save the Children, told VICE News that it's clear that the Mediterranean crisis is "a Europe-wide problem which requires a Europe-wide solution."

"Italy's reception centers and children's homes are now overwhelmed with the demand, meaning some vulnerable children have to sleep rough or stay in sports halls and churches. They risk falling prey to people traffickers and being forced into prostitution, child labor, and the drug trade. The situation in Greece is even worse, with reception systems strained under the pressure of thousands of new arrivals."

Meanwhile, tragic tales of crossings continue to emerge. According to NGO Save the Children, an 11-year-old diabetic Syrian girl died at sea last week after smugglers threw the bag carrying her insulin overboard, despite the pleas of her parents. 

Related: Europe Launches Naval Operation to 'Attack Smugglers' in Response to Migrant Crisis

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Watch the VICE News documentary, Death Boats to Greece (Part 1) here: