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EU warns of fines if states backtrack on refugees relocation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This photo taken on February 12, 2017 shows two women holding their children in the refugee camp in Gevgelija near the Greek-Macedonian border, where they have been staying for the past 11 months. (Photo by AFP)

The European Union has threatened to impose fines on member states that do not abide by their promises regarding the relocation of refugees.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday that the bloc would take legal action against members that won’t comply with a relocation scheme by September.

“If we don't have tangible efforts by September... the commission will not hesitate to make use of its power,” Avramopoulos told a news conference, adding “There are no more excuses for the member states not to deliver” on their duties.

At the peak of refugee influx to Europe, the EU members agreed in September 2015 to share some 160,000 asylum seekers who had arrived in Greece and Italy. The scheme faced resistance from the very beginning, with states especially in Eastern Europe complaining that taking in refugees would expose them to serious security and economic risks.

Avramopoulos said, however, that member states should have no difficulty in relocating all those stranded in Greece and Italy by the set target.

“It is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September,” he said.

The EU’s executive commission said that so far only 3,936 have been relocated from Italy and 9,610 from Greece. It added that relocation accelerated in February when some 1,940 people were moved, but regretted that the pace was still well below expectations. Only Malta and Finland are now on track to meet their obligations in full, the EU commission said.

Refugees stand behind a fence at the Hellinikon camp in Athens, on February 6, 2017, in protest at poor living conditions, during a visit of the Greek Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas. (Photo by AFP)

Avramopoulos said that responsibilities of the EU members to fulfill their pledges to accept refugees won’t end even by the end of September.

“It is as if you have an outstanding bill. You have to pay it,” he said.

The senior EU official also demanded that countries do better in returning home refugees and economic migrants who don’t qualify for asylum, adding that authorities could even make arrests “if there is a risk of absconding.”

More than 1.1 million refugees, most of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, flocked to Europe in 2015. The flow subsided to quarter of a million last year after the EU reached a deal with Turkey in March 2016 to take back all people landing on Greek islands in return for financial aid to Ankara and the lifting of short-term visa requirements for Turks, which is yet to go into force.

The most welcoming countries to refugees like Germany also introduced their own restrictions on the arrivals.

The EU said in February that it was for the first time considering penalties for states that break the rules on relocations. 

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