GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that the European Union’s decisions on the migrant crisis would need to be followed by “concrete commitments” from member states to ease the pressure on Italy and Greece.
European leaders argued into the early hours of Friday over how to handle the crisis in the Mediterranean, agreeing a plan to share out the care of desperate people fleeing war and poverty in North Africa and the Middle East.
They eventually agreed a voluntary scheme aimed at taking in 60,000 people and granted an exclusion for Hungary, which had earlier described the plan as absurd, and Bulgaria, one of the EU’s poorest countries.
“This clearly is an important step along the way to finding answers to this crisis but clearly much more will have to be done, including addressing the root causes,” Adrian Edwards of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.
With agreement to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers now in Italy and Greece who are in need of international protection, “the participation of all member states will be key to success”, he said.
In all, 153,000 migrants have entered Europe by land, air and sea this year, a jump of 149 percent compared to the same period last year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
“We expect this to be the start of a very busy summer,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman said.
Italy and Greece have each received more than 60,000 migrants already this year, Millman said. “During the current month of June between 650 and 1,000 migrants are reaching Greek islands every day.”
Syrian nationals remain one of the largest groups arriving in Europe through the two countries, he said, with Syrians accounting for a total of 32,000 in Italy and Greece.
UNHCR’s Edwards, referring to the proposed EU-wide resettlement of 20,000 refugees, urged member states to “make concrete commitments toward this goal beyond their existing resettlement quotas”.
“There does need to be a joined up response by Europe focused on the asylum priorities,” he said.
The plan was meant as an emergency response to the tragedy of 2,000 migrants dying in the Mediterranean this year but has been overshadowed by divisions, particularly in Eastern Europe.
“Through all of June last year, so the mid-point of 2014, 763 migrants had died. We’re already close to three times that for this year,” Millman said. “So we’re very concerned about that trend.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Toby Chopra