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France backs EU proposal for member state refugee quotas

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, will present a proposal for EU member states to take in refugees under a quota system AFP

The European Union’s executive body is set to propose a migrant quota scheme under which its 28 member states will share responsibility for housing thousands of refugees arriving in Europe.

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker will present the policy Wednesday as part of an overall strategy for migration.

The number of refugees sent to each country would depend on the member state’s GDP, population size, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers, according to details of the proposal which emerged Monday.

The UN estimates that 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean this year. More than 5,000 people have died trying to reach Europe by sea from North Africa in the last 18 months.

The plan for a quota system is meant to ease the burden on the region's southern states, particularly Italy.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio station RTL on Monday that he supports the proposal.

"It is normal that there is a breakdown of the number of asylum seekers between countries of the European Union," he added.

Meanwhile, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban has called the plan "mad and unfair", and other member states say that taking in more people only would result in more migrants risking their lives in the Mediterranean crossing.

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini called on the UN Security Council on Monday to approve military action against people smugglers.

"Our first priority is to save lives and prevent further loss of lives at sea," Mogherini told the 15-member council.

One component of the EU plan would mean destroying traffickers' boats, most of which set out from wartorn Libya.

EU defence ministers are also concentrating on sharing intelligence from radar, aerial surveillance and wiretaps to stop human trafficking, but have said that a UN mandate is needed to do more.