Geneva, Sep 6 (IANS/AKI) The United Nations on Wednesday praised a ruling by the European Union’s top court that rejected a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to relocation quotas approved at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015.
“Today’s decision by the European Court of Justice on the relocation scheme sends a very strong signal on the importance of solidarity and responsibility sharing among EU Member States,” UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
European leaders agreed in September 2015 to relocate a total of 160,000 migrants “in clear need of international protection” from Italy and Greece to other EU countries over two years.
The UNHCR urged EU nations to “increase the pace of relocation for eligible asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, and to fully meet their relocation commitments as a concrete gesture of solidarity towards countries of first arrival in the EU”.
So far less than 28,000 people have been relocated in the face of opposition from several Eastern European countries notably Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Romania also voted against the scheme, which was approved by a majority vote.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto slammed Wednesday’s ruling – which is final an cannot be appealed – calling it “appalling and irresponsible” and vowed to use all legal means against the judgement, which he said was “the result of a political decision”.
In asking the ECJ to annul the deal, Hungary and Slovakia argued the relocation scheme should have been agreed unanimously and that it put them at risk of Islamist terrorism and threatens their homogenous societies.
If Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic do not cooperate with the relocation scheme, they could be referred to the ECJ and face heavy fines.
The EU has said 160,000 asylum-seekers need to be relocated from Greece and Italy by the end of this month but at the latest count just 27,695 have been – 8,451 from Italy and 19,244 from Greece.
A further 7,000 asylum-seekers who arrive before September 26 can be redistributed to other EU countries from Italy and another 4,700 from Greece, according to the European Commission.