The four European Union countries hardest hit by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of unauthorized migrants over the past five years said Thursday they fear that new proposals to revamp the EU's asylum system will continue to leave them shouldering most of the burden.
Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain said in a joint paper that mandatory quotas for sharing out people who qualify for refugee status among the 27 EU countries must be pursued, despite the outright rejection of such a move by Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and others.
The four's demands could be a major setback for the asylum reform plans.
"The front-line member states cannot face the migratory pressure on the whole European Union," said the text. It was sent to the president of the European Commission, which drew up the new asylum proposals, the EU Council representing member countries and Germany, which holds the bloc's presidency.
The entry in 2015 of well over 1 million migrants, mostly people fleeing conflict in Syria, sounded the death knell for the EU's asylum system, and sparked a deep political crisis that continues to echo even though entries have dropped to a relative trickle.
The row over who should take responsibility for people when they arrive and how much other EU countries should assist has helped fuel public support for far-right parties across the bloc. Populist governments in Hungary and Poland, notably, challenged a previous system of migrant quotas at Europe's top court.
In the text, seen by The Associated Press, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain argue that their responsibilities as countries where most unauthorized migrants arrive across the Mediterranean Sea are strict and clear in the "New Pact for Migration and Asylum," but that the duties of their EU partners are not.
"The solidarity mechanism remains complex and vague," the four countries said.
"The notion of mandatory relocation should remain and be pursued as the main solidarity tool," the text continued.
Under the proposed reforms, migrants arriving at Europe's outside borders without permission to enter would be screened within five days. They would then enter an asylum procedure or be deported, both within 12 weeks. People could be held in detention and would not be deemed to have officially entered the EU.
EU countries would then face two choices: take in some of the refugees or provide other material and logistical support; or if they are not willing to do that, they could take charge of deporting people whose applications are refused. Mandatory refugee quotas have been abandoned.
Broadly speaking, countries that agree to host refugees would receive 10,000 euros ($11,900) per person in assistance from the EU's coffers. The others, dubbed "Europe's bouncers," would have up to eight months to deport people not allowed in or be forced to accept them.
In recent years, only about a third of all people ordered to be sent home were actually deported.
Germany has said it wants to reach a political agreement between EU countries and the European Parliament on the asylum reforms by the end of the year, in the hope that they could be officially endorsed early in 2021.