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EU Commission To Submit Plan To Share In Migrant Burden


Disasters in the Mediterranean have not slowed down the exodus of migrants and refugees trying to get into Europe. Last month alone, up to 900 are believed to have died at sea. Today, the 28 member nations of the European Union will consider a proposal to share the burden of resettling the tens of thousands of migrants who have reached Europe, and it wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a military operation to seize and destroy boats smuggling those migrants, most which leave from Libya. Let's hear more about this now from NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, who is on the line from Rome. Good morning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Sylvia, what do we know about this plan to share the burden of these migrants?

POGGIOLI: Well, the actual details are still very sketchy, and that's probably because the opposition's going to be pretty intense. The proposal calls for a mandatory quota system, under which migrants who are currently in the EU would be relocated to other member states based on what the population, GDP and jobless rate is in each of those states. Italy, which has borne the brunt of the recent influx, has more than 80,000 migrants registered in its reception centers, in addition to an unknown number of unregistered migrants. And Greece and Malta are the other two front-line states in this crisis.

But Britain's newly elected Conservative government has already said it will exercise its right to opt out of any such legislation. And, you know, pressure's growing from anti-immigrant parties across the continent, so getting it approved by the remaining members won't be easy. The opposition is strongest in Eastern Europe, places like Poland and the Czech Republic. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, called it an unfair and indecent proposal.

MONTAGNE: Well, European Union members have long been at odds over migration policies. They're viewed as issues of national sovereignty and security. And, as you've just suggested, they don't want the burden of these newcomers. So why now an attempt to forge a common policy? Have things just got that bad?

POGGIOLI: Well, certainly the death last month of the some 900 migrants and the continuing flow from Libya is definitely jolting the European Union into doing something. And in this so-called EU new migration agenda that they have, there are other things. It calls also for an overhaul of asylum regulations. It would introduce a European asylum process, which is not the case today. Now it's done in the individual countries. Last year, there were a record 600,000 requests for asylum in Europe.

MONTAGNE: And talk to us about this possible military operation to hunt down human traffickers and destroy their boats. How likely is that to happen?

POGGIOLI: Well, depends who's talking. The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, sounded very optimistic after her talks at the U.N., but many diplomats and human rights activists are skeptical about using force against smugglers in international waters and Libyan territorial waters. Obviously the boats would have to be empty before they're going to be destroyed, and that means probably raising them down inside Libyan ports. But that, of course, raises the Libya conundrum; it's in a state of anarchy with two rival governments, and the one that's internationally recognized says it won't authorize the use of force on its territory.

MONTAGNE: And also the EU foreign policy chief this week told the U.N. that refugees and migrants intercepted at sea will not be sent back against their will. So that sounds like the smugglers will stay in business.

POGGIOLI: It's a booming business. A report released yesterday by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime - that's a network of law enforcement and development groups - says the smuggling trade is worth up to $323 million a year in Libya alone and that much of that money is being funneled into terrorist groups, including the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The report also says that intervening off Libya's coast is unlikely to stop the human flow to Europe because the smugglers don't really care what happens to migrants once they've left Libyan shores.

MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.