BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is pleading with member countries to step up the relocation of asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, seeking to give new momentum to a plan that is now far short of its targets.
The EU is even holding out the threat of legal action if nations don't comply.
EU nations agreed in September 2015, at the height of the migrant influx to Europe, to share 160,000 asylum-seekers who had arrived in Greece and Italy over two years. But the EU's executive Commission said Thursday that so far only 13,546 have been relocated, 3,936 of them from Italy and 9,610 from Greece.
It said relocations hit a monthly record in February, with 1,940 people moved, but that pace is still well below expectations.
"There are no more excuses for the member states not to deliver," Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "It is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September."
Countries' responsibilities to fulfill their pledges to accept refugees won't end then, he added.
"It is as if you have an outstanding bill. You have to pay it," Avramopoulos said.
Attitudes among many EU members to accepting asylum-seekers range from unenthusiastic to hostile. The Commission said only two countries, Malta and Finland, are now on track to meet their obligations in full.
If there are no "tangible results" by September, the EU executive "will not hesitate to make use of its power" to take legal action against offending countries, Avramopoulos said.
Also Thursday, the EU pressed members to do better in returning home migrants who don't qualify for asylum. Among other things, Avramopoulos said, they could "place migrants in detention, if there is a risk of absconding."