LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it would not participate in any European Union plan to resettle refugees using country quotas, saying it preferred to focus its efforts on tackling people traffickers instead.
The European Commission is planning to legislate before the end of the year to ensure the burden of housing immigrants is shared across the bloc, according to binding quotas based on criteria such as economic health and population.
But Britain's newly-elected Conservative government on Tuesday said it would exercise its right to opt out of any such legislation.
"We will not participate in any legislation imposing a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation," a Home Office (interior ministry) statement said.
A series of disasters in the Mediterranean in which hundreds of migrants from North Africa have drowned after attempting to cross the sea in overcrowded and unsafe vessels has sharpened international focus on the issue of migration into Europe.
Britain, where immigration is a politically sensitive subject, has sent its helicopter-carrying flagship HMS Bulwark to help solve the crisis in the Mediterranean. But on Tuesday, the government said its focus would remain on targeting the traffickers behind the flow of migrants.
"The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer. We will oppose any EU Commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota," the statement said.
Reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn