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Snags in Europe plan to relocate migrants from Greece, Italy

A woman and children staying at a refugee camp on the north eastern Greek island of Chios, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. More than 3,600 refugees and migrants are stuck on Chios and over 60,000 people remain stranded on Greece's mainland and the islands since European border closures earlier this year. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
September 30, 2016 - 10:27 AM

BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungary is holding a referendum on Sunday against future European Union quotas for accepting asylum seekers, but schemes already in place to ensure EU member countries are taking in a fair share of the migrants reaching Europe hardly are working now.

The EU decided in September 2015 to move 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other European countries. There, refugees with a "high chance" getting asylum would wait for a decision on their applications and, in case of success, receive permission to settle in the country to which there were relocated.

Under this system, Hungary would receive 1,294 asylum seekers and Slovakia would get 902. Both countries reject the mandatory quotas and are challenging the EU's sharing scheme at the European Court of Justice.

Here's a by-the-numbers look at how the migrant issue is playing out within the 28-nation bloc:

ASYLUM SEEKERS IN EUROPE

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, says there were 1.25 million first-time asylum applicants in the EU during all of last year and 1.44 million in the 12 months before Sept. 21.

Germany led the EU in 2015 with 441,800 first-time applicants, followed by Hungary with 174,435 and Sweden with 156,110.

While Germany and Sweden are destination countries for refugees and migrants, Hungary is almost exclusively a transit country and often the first EU country where people heading north from Turkey and Greece register.

Next on the list are two more destination nations: Austria, with 85,505 applications in 2015, and Italy with 83,245.

At the bottom are Croatia with 140 first-time applicants, Estonia with 225 and Slovenia with 260.

PROTECTION GRANTED

Germany is also first in the EU in approving asylum requests, having granted some sort of international protection to 140,910 refugees in 2015.

Sweden is second with 32,215, Italy third with 29,615 asylum seekers recognized last year. France (20,630) and the Netherlands (16,540) round out the top five.

Latvia approved only 20 asylum applications, followed by Croatia with 40 and Slovenia's 45.

Eurostat said Hungary approved 505 asylum requests in 2015.

ASYLUM SEEKER RELOCATION

The European Commission said just 5,651 asylum seekers of the EU target of 160,000 had been relocated from Greece and Italy as of Sept. 27.

France welcomed the most, 1,952, but was expected to receive 19,714 under the EU quota plan.

The Netherlands had 726 relocations out of 5,947 pledged, while Finland took in 690 asylum seekers out of the 2,078 it was assigned.

Austria, Hungary and Poland did not admit any asylum-seekers from the relocation pool.

HUNGARY'S CASE

The Hungarian government's assorted objections to the relocation scheme have led to Sunday's referendum which, while not legally binding, has boosted both Prime Minister Viktor Orban's popularity and anti-migrant attitudes among Hungarian citizens. Orban says support for the government's position in the referendum will make it harder for Brussels to ignore Hungary's quota nihilism.

"The referendum will decide how strong a sword we can forge in the fight against the Brussels bureaucrats," Orban told Hungarian news site Origo.hu.

Orban thinks future EU relocation quotas could compel the country of 9.8 million to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them Muslims he says would spoil Hungary's homogenous society along with its Christian identity and culture.

"We are only defending the right to remain unchanged," Orban said this week on state television. "We Hungarians love Hungary the way it is."

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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