The UN wants to expand a scheme to resettle refugees in the EU in a plan that was welcomed by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, but could prove controversial among neighboring states hostile to immigration.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, disclosed the plans in Berlin on Friday, calling for an extension of a current two-year scheme for resettling 22,000 Syrian asylum seekers. The expansion would raise the numbers covered to 40,000 annually from 2018 and expand the range of countries from which refugees would come.
Ms Merkel threw her weight behind the plan, saying Germany was “ready to take its share” and that an extra 40,000 people would “not overstretch a continent with more than 500m people”.
The German chancellor made clear she wanted to relieve the pressure on Italy. It is experiencing the bulk of the migrant flow into Europe, which this year has reached nearly 120,000, according to UNHCR
However, she said nothing about the potential challenges involved in winning over other EU states such as Hungary, which have refused to take refugees under EU-backed resettlement schemes.
The present UN resettlement scheme dates to 2015, when the EU agreed to take 22,000 refugees from outside the union, mainly Syrians from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
It is separate from a potentially larger and equally controversial programme for redistributing refugees within the EU from Italy and Greece, which has also run into intense opposition in eastern Europe.
Ms Merkel also pledged 50m euros towards international efforts led by UNHCR and the International Migration Organisation to assist refugees in Libya.
EU politicians are discussing establishing refugee reception centres in Libya as a way of eventually diverting migrants from undertaking the perilous crossings of the Mediterranean. But this depends on first stabilising Libya.
Ms Merkel said the issue of refugees would be discussed in campaigning for German’s parliamentary election in September, responding to criticisms that she has tried to down play its importance as public concern has faded since the 2015-16 refugee crisis.
The crisis, when more than a million asylum seekers arrived in Germany, damaged her reputation for crisis-management but she has recovered her support and is favourite to secure a fourth term in office.