The EU has approved a plan to redistribute 120,000 refugees among member states under a controversial quota system opposed by some countries. Under the scheme initially laid out by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the refugees will be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary to other countries.
The decision was taken by interior ministers reunited in Brussels to discuss the migrant crisis that has seen some 500,000 people reaching Europe in 2015. The system imposing mandatory quotas to all member states was unusually approved with a majority vote rather than unanimous consensus.
Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary voted against the measure, which has to be ratified by EU leaders at a meeting on 23 September before coming into force. Finland abstained. Britain will not take part in the redistribution, as it made use of an opt-out clause. Denmark and Ireland had similar clauses available but offered to share the refugee burden instead.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve nevertheless said the measure was approved with a "crushing majority".
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the quota system will not be crippled by refugees exploiting the EU free movement rules to relocate from the country they are assigned to another of their choice at a later stage.
"If people are distributed in Europe, then they can't choose what country they go to. They have to stay in the country they were distributed to," he said.
The EU's Luxembourg presidency tweeted:
"Relocation is part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis," the EU Commission said in a statement. "The root causes of the refugee crisis must be addressed. That is why tomorrow heads of state and government will discuss the immediate priority actions which are necessary to address the instability in our vicinity, and the refugee pressures on neighbouring countries."
Under the plan presented by Juncker earlier in September, refugees are to be assigned to the various countries on the basis of a formula that takes into account national income, population size and unemployment rate among other factors.