Migrant crisis: Germany's Merkel says EU quotas are a 'first step'

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Migrant crisis: Germany's Merkel says EU quotas are a 'first step'

Large numbers continue to journey through south-eastern Europe towards Austria and Germany

Mandatory quotas determining how many migrants each European Union country should take in are a "first step", German Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

She was speaking as the EU continues to grapple with a huge influx of migrants, which peaked at the weekend.

The European Commission is set to announce plans on Wednesday, including quotas, to distribute 120,000 migrants among member countries.

Germany says it can cope with more in the future but wants the burden shared.

Mrs Merkel was speaking alongside the visiting Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven. Their countries have so far taken in the most asylum seekers.

Calling the European Commission's proposals "an important first step", Mrs Merkel added that the EU needed an open-ended "system to share out those with a right to asylum".

Divisions

Earlier, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Germany could cope with "at least 500,000 asylum seekers a year for several years".

Germany, which has waived EU rules to welcome thousands of Syrian migrants, expects more than 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone - four times the 2014 figure.

The quotas issue has exposed deep divisions within the EU.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Romania have voiced reservations.

The quota system, to be announced by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, would allocate 60% of migrants now in Italy, Greece and Hungary to Germany, France and Spain, reports say.

The numbers distributed to each country would depend on GDP, population, unemployment rate and asylum applications already processed, AFP news agency reports.

Countries refusing to take in migrants could face financial penalties.

The migrants, mainly Syrians, are engaged in a long trek that takes them from Turkey, across the sea to Greece, through Macedonia and Serbia, and then to Hungary from where they aim to reach Austria and Germany.

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The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, says a record 7,000 Syrian migrants arrived in Macedonia alone on Monday and 30,000 were on Greek islands.

The migrant influx has unsettled European governments and prompted diverse responses. Hungary's conservative leadership is building a border fence to try to keep them out, but German politicians have expressed pride in crowds who welcomed new arrivals.

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Media captionJames Reynolds on the Serbia-Macedonia border: ''Hundreds and hundreds of people are waiting to get to the front of the queue''

A Greek minister said on Monday that the island of Lesbos, which sits off the Turkish coast, was "on the verge of an explosion" due to a build-up of 20,000 migrants.

The government and UNHCR have brought in extra staff and ships to process them.

The UNHCR meanwhile highlighted the growing scale of the challenge, releasing new figures that suggest it expects 400,000 migrants to arrive in Europe by sea in 2015.

The majority are Syrian, and the UN says many are now seeking a better life in Europe because of poor conditions in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon - caused in part because of a drastic shortfall in multilateral aid programmes.

Macedonia, where the UN says 7,000 migrants arrived on Monday alone

Germany is the destination of choice for many

The UN's special representative for migration, Peter Sutherland, said several wealthy countries, such as the US and Gulf states, had in fact been generous in contributing financially to help improve the lives of Syrians in countries neighbouring Syria.

But this was no substitute for taking migrants in. "Buying your way out of this is not satisfactory," he said.


A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.



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