EU ministers seek deal to end migrant quota row

BRUSSELS – European Union (EU) ministers tried to hammer out a deal on plans to relocate 120,000 refugees at emergency talks on Tuesday amid deep divisions over how to handle Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

The UN and other international organisations warned it was the “last chance” for increasingly overwhelmed European states to agree on how to cope with the tide of people fleeing conflict in countries like Syria, Afghanistan.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting, said, “We have a text on the table which should deliver an agreement. It is very balanced. I think it will have a good influence on all the delegations so we can reach a result this evening.” But central and eastern European states still strongly resist plans to force EU member countries to take a share of the new arrivals from front-line nations.

Czech Prime Minister Sobotka told reporters in Prague that he wants to confirm that both the interior minister and he will unequivocally reject any effort to introduce a permanent mechanism of refugee redistribution. “We also reject the introduction of quotas,” he said.

The ministers are trying to reach a deal that could be ratified by European Union leaders at a crisis summit on Wednesday, which will focus on wider issues of strengthening the bloc’s external borders. Tensions have kept boiling over, with fears that the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone could be under threat from the tide of migrants, many of whom are trying to make their way to Germany.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere, whose country is set to take in around one million asylum seekers this year, said that he was “optimistic” that they could reach a deal but warned that the talks would be difficult.

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