The European Union will set no minimum on the number of Syrian refugees its member states are willing to take from Turkey in a resettlement scheme to be unveiled on Tuesday, a senior EU official said on Monday.
The European Commission, the bloc's executive, will present the proposal following an agreement with Ankara two weeks ago that European leaders hope can help stem the flow of refugees and economic migrants reaching the EU from Turkey via Greece.
It will mention no number, the official said, in its plan for deserving cases to be flown directly from Turkey to the EU — an omission that could disappoint Turkish leaders. Nor will there be any system to send them to certain states — rather, EU countries can volunteer to take part in the scheme.
Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel has led efforts for an EU agreement on taking in substantial numbers of the 2.3 million Syrians now sheltering in Turkey as a way of cutting back on people risking their lives in chaotic migration by sea.
But few other states have been so enthusiastic, particularly following bitter rows inside the bloc in recent months caused by a German-backed push to impose mandatory quotas on governments to take in asylum seekers from frontier states Italy and Greece.
An agreement among EU states in the summer to take in up to 22,000 refugees, mainly from the Middle East, has yet to become fully operational. The same is true for schemes to relocate up to 160,000 asylum seekers already inside the EU. Some countries argue against more schemes until capacity is reached in others.
However, Turkey has been keen to see evidence of European commitment to helping it out in return for Turkish cooperation to slow departures for the Greek islands, and so the new scheme, specifically to help Turkey, is being put forward — to be linked with conditions to Ankara's efforts to stem migration.
The leaders of Germany, Austria and some half dozen other countries which have shown an interest in taking in refugees from Turkey are expected to meet in Brussels on Thursday ahead of an EU summit later that day.
Expectations among Brussels officials for the resettlement plan are modest compared with speculation in recent weeks that the EU might offer to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrians via legal migration routes rather than perilous sea voyages.
“If we manage to resettle 10,000 refugees from Turkey by the summer that would be a huge success,” the senior official involved with the preparation of the plan told Reuters.