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23 September 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 10:03am

What you need to know about the EU refugee quota plan

A deal to relocate refugees across the EU has been forced through against the wishes of four eastern European states.

By Anoosh Chakelian

What is the quota plan?

The deal, approved by EU ministers, is to share 120,000 refugees between EU member states – resettling them from southern Europe in an attempt to ease the refugee crisis. Initially, 66,000 are to be relocated this year, added to the 40,000 approved in July, and the rest a year later. The nine countries of central and eastern Europe are being asked to take about 15,000 in total between them, with Germany and France between them taking double that number.

When was this decided?

At a vote among interior ministers in Brussels on Tuesday night (22 September).

Who voted?

Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against the plan, with Finland abstaining, but they were unable to stop its proponents, led by Germany and France. Majority voting meant the deal could be pushed through, in spite of vehement opposition from those four states. Usually the EU allows its states a veto and prefers to reach a consensus.

Is it compulsory for countries to sign up to this plan?

Yes, they must abide by the rules under EU law. Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are due to take 6,200 refugees between them in the quota scheme, in spite of being against the plan.

Can they do anything about it?

Probably not, but they are shouting pretty loudly. An emergency summit of EU leaders is being held this week to discuss the refugee crisis, and tensions from countries which have been forced into the quota scheme are running high. Slovakia is saying it will go to court to challenge compulsory quotas.

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Is Britain part of this?

No. Britain has opted out of this plan. Instead, it’s promised more than £1bn in aid to deal with the Syrian crisis in the region, and will take 20,000 refugees directly from camps in Turkey and north Africa.

How many refugees are being relocated?

This vote brings the total number of refugees to be relocated to 160,000, all of whom will come from Greece and Italy.

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Will quotas help?

It’s unlikely. Put in context, the quota numbers are tiny – there are 4m Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, for example. Quotas might be morally appropriate, or politically expedient (depending on which government you are), but don’t reach the root of the crisis. Organisations like Amnesty have dismissed the EU quota debate as a distraction.