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Plan To Relocate 120,000 Migrants In Europe Meets Resistance


Leaders of Europe are trying to get control of where refugees end up within the continent. People are already arriving from the Middle East and elsewhere in huge numbers. There's not much Europeans can do about that. The question is, which countries become the refugees' final destinations? And that is exceedingly sensitive since many countries are reluctant to take too many people, which is why, in meetings this week, European leaders have decided to relocate 120,000 refugees already within the European Union, which means 120,000 lives will change. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been covering the European meetings in Brussels. Hi, Soraya.


INSKEEP: What does this plan mean exactly?

NELSON: Well, you're talking about people who are arriving on the shores of Greece and Italy and then trekking all the way to Hungary. And what they've been doing is - is they're all headed north. They all want to go to Germany. They all want to go to Austria or Sweden or countries where they feel they have a better chance at having a future. But what happens with this decision that was made last night is that decision gets taken away from them. And so what's going to happen is that, based on some sort of loose formula, they're going be stopped at the borders - or the way it's supposed to work, anyway - at Greece, Italy and Hungary. They'll be evaluated whether they qualify to go on for refugee status. And then they're supposed to move to various countries that are voluntarily agreeing to be part of this, except it's really not supposed to be voluntary. So this is a big change for people who, before now, really had a choice.

INSKEEP: So some people might end up in Germany, where they'd like to be. Some people might end up in Hungary or in Austria or any number of other countries. Is this about helping people, or is it about European politics?

NELSON: I think both is the best answer for that. I mean, certainly the European leadership is trying to show that they have unity and that they can come up with a humane policy. But the reality is that this has divided Europe more than ever, certainly last night. When this plan was approved, it was done by a vote, which is usually not done. They do these things by consensus. And so now you have the ones that voted no saying, we're not going to do this. I mean, you have the Czech interior minister tweeting right afterwards that this plan is the emperor with no clothes and the Slovakians saying, forget it; we won't adopt it. So there's going to have to be a lot of ruffled feathers that are smoothed over when the leaders of the European countries in the bloc get together tonight.

INSKEEP: And, of course, you'll be covering that meeting. Does this endanger the European Union, then, if you have states openly defying the will of the majority?

NELSON: Well, that certainly is the big fear, and it's very much being talked about these days. I mean, not only do you have the leadership at each other's throats, basically, about this very issue, but you have borders closing - I mean, borders that used to be open borders. Countries have instituted controls there, be it Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia. You know, the list goes on. So tonight is very important to try and see if there's some sort of unity that can be achieved, which is why they will probably talk about some issues on which there is agreement - for example, the speeding up of the review and deportation of people who don't qualify for sanctuary.

INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.