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EU leaders agree on relocation scheme for migrants

Migrants arriving in Greece are to be relocated across the EU AFP Photo / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS

At least 40,000 people who have arrived recently in Italy and Greece will be distributed across Europe over the next two years. European Union leaders met in Brussels and agreed to relocate migrants, though they decided to drop the controversial idea of imposing mandatory quotas for each country.

In addition to 40,000 migrants who will be relocated, the EU leaders also agreed to resettle another 20,000 refugees who are currently outside the EU.

However, this is not enough of an effort for some of the leaders. Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the plan "modest". 

Recent figures from the UN's refugee agency show that at least 63,000 migrants have arrived in Greece by sea this year and 62,000 arrived in Italy.

"It's still a drop in the sea in light of the extraordinary challenge of the Syrian crisis," says the representative for UNHCR in France, Philippe Leclerc. "If it was up to us, we'd ask for at least 130,000 places, for Syrians only."

Some quotas were to be imposed on each European country receiving migrants, but some nations in eastern Europe have refused to accept that. The decision to make it only voluntary angered several leaders, including Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel.

"This agreement is disappointing. The meeting was deplorable, an undignified stance for Europe. When we realise that for some, solidarity is a one-way street, this is a problem because we all know the migrant issue is going to remain serious," he said in a statement.

The UK has opted out of the scheme, using one of its exemptions as agreed in the EU Lisbon treaty. Hungary and Bulgaria were granted exemptions because they have already seen thousands of migrants cross their borders.

French President Francois Hollande said that there are also fears of waves of migrants coming from eastern Europe if the crisis in Ukraine were to carry on.