European Union interior ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss a controversial quota plan to distribute 120,000 migrants throughout the 28-nation bloc, but several countries remain opposed.
The interior ministers are hoping to reach a consensus ahead of Wednesday’s summit of EU leaders, but several central European countries stood firm against the country-by-country quota proposal.
“It is necessary for EU countries to retain their sovereignty in this matter,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said. “It must be the governments who will decide.”
Sobotka praised Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Finland for also opposing the quota plan.
Nearly a half-million migrants, 40 percent of them Syrians, have crossed the Mediterranean this year, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East in search of a better life in Europe.
The United Nations refugee agency said the constant stream of migrants is so large — 6,000 a day landing on European shores — that a relocation plan covering 120,000 migrants “will not be enough to stabilize the situation.” It called for the opening of refugee reception centers on the EU perimeter.
Germany has by far accepted the biggest number of refugees. But Berlin’s intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, warned that radical Islamists already in Germany could try to recruit refugees for terrorist attacks on the pretext of offering them humanitarian assistance.
The interior ministers’ meeting comes after the European Parliament approved the quota plan last week over the opposition of several countries.
On the eve of the talks, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged leaders across the EU to “show leadership and compassion” as the continent grapples with the unrelenting wave of migrants.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meanwhile called for responsibility to be shared, saying “otherwise there is no point in talking about a united Europe.”
On Monday, Hungary’s parliament authorized its army to use nonlethal force against migrants who try to enter the country illegally.
Hungary has already sealed its border with Serbia with razor wire and now Hungarian soldiers may use rubber bullets, tear gas and net guns. They can also search homes for illegal migrants.
Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungary’s parliament that the migrants “are overrunning us. They’re not just banging on the door, they’re breaking the door down on top of us.”
Other European nations are strongly critical of Hungary’s reaction to the migration crisis, accusing it of using violence and Nazi-like tactics.
The Hungarians are furious at their southern and eastern European neighbors, accusing them of doing little to control the wave of humanity that has crossed the Mediterranean to escape war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and Africa.
European Union leaders will hold a summit Wednesday on the crisis that is tearing the continent apart. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is urging ministers to quit bickering over plans on relocating people.
Some nations that originally welcomed the migrants, such as Germany and Croatia, are now restricting entry, leaving men, women and children stranded in the open with no shelter or food.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States plans to issue up to 100,000 refugee visas a year starting in 2017 — up from the current 70,000.