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EU Leaders Debate Program To Address Migrant Crisis


European leaders are deeply divided over what to do about migrants and refugees who're pouring over their borders, and they're meeting in Brussels tonight to talk about it. Some are unhappy about yesterday's vote to relocate 120,000 refugees who are already in Greece and Italy to other EU states, including some countries that don't want any asylum-seekers at all. EU president Donald Tusk said he's fed up with their bickering.


DONALD TUSK: We have now reached the critical point where we need to end this cycle of mutual retributions and misunderstandings.

MCEVERS: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Brussels, and she joins me now. Hi, Soraya.


MCEVERS: OK. So there was a vote last night, right? Interior and justice ministers already voted on this. Doesn't that resolve the issue. I mean, why are leaders still debating it at their summit there in Brussels?

NELSON: Well, the whole reason has to do with the fact that it was a vote. I mean, in the past, decision have been reached by consensus here at the EU, even during contentious debates like the one over the Greek debt relief. But then last night, the block's newer members felt like they were being ordered around by Brussels. And the fact that the European Commission and other advocates of the plan pointed out that quotas were no longer going to be mandatory. That this language was being removed didn't seem to appease anyone. And Slovakia, which was 1 of 4 countries that voted no has vowed to not follow these measures that are laid out and may go to court over it.

MCEVERS: OK. So you said the plan originally had mandatory quotas. But many member states had problem with that, so the quotas were removed. So how would the relocation program be enforced, then, without them?

NELSON: Well, this is sort of the doublespeak that goes on sometimes. But EU officials have said that they will launch infringement proceedings that could involve hefty penalties against countries that refuse to take refugees in. But because the distribution is voluntary, there's likely to be a lot of rejiggering as to what numbers countries will take in, you know, how many. And all of this back-and-forth will of course delay implementation. And keep in mind that the EU hasn't even started relocating the 40,000 that it first agreed to in - to do in May and then voted on September 14.

So also, for any of this to work, Greece, Hungary and Italy and other places that are taking in lots of refugees sort of as the first stop - they need to register these migrants because if - they need to determine if they're eligible for refugee status, which is not happening now.

MCEVERS: And we know that the number that they're debating, you know, doesn't even address a quarter of the people who are coming, who are making their way across Europe's borders. I mean, so what else are the leaders proposing to do?

NELSON: Well, a lot of that geared toward convincing refugees not to make the dangerous journey to Europe in the first place - or I should say migrants 'cause it's a larger group here that we're talking about. So they're planning to pour money into countries and agencies dealing with Syrian refugees who are still in the Middle East. Provide money to the World Food Program is another thing that's been talked about and to better coordinate with countries like Turkey, which borders Syria and is dealing with millions of refugees as well as the Balkans, which are, of course, on the transit route.

But as EU president Donald Tusk says, his recent trips to those countries showed that the leaders aren't thinking at all about what they can do to help the EU but what is the EU going to do to help them out of their own crisis?

MCEVERS: And what about some of these border controls we've been hearing out - fences and razor wire going up not just on Europe's borders but even between EU countries?

NELSON: Well, those don't appear to be going away anytime soon. Although, the EU emphasis is going to be more on fortifying borders to non-EU states - in other words, let's say between Hungary and Serbia. And Tusk says without control of those borders, no plan they come up with is going to work. And it terms of the internal borders, the feeling is that citizens will start crying out about having to wait at those borders, so those may go away on their own because of political pressure at home.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brussels. Soraya, thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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