BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries will reject a plan obliging them to share thousands of refugees arriving in Greece and Italy, diplomats said on the eve of Thursday's summit where Europe's battle to manage a major migrant influx is high on the agenda.
Conflict and poverty have driven more than 100,000 migrants to Europe this year, and almost 2,000 have died or gone missing while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
The EU wants the 28 nations to share 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans landing in Greece and Italy over the next two years to ease their burden. The plan is seen as a temporary emergency measure to help them confront the mass of migrants arriving in unseaworthy boats.
But a senior EU official said Wednesday that "the idea that quotas can be imposed from Brussels is not going to fly."
The official is involved in preparing the summit, and declined to be named because deliberations are ongoing.
A draft of the summit's final statement obtained by The Associated Press says that "all member states will agree by the end of July on the distribution" of the refugees.
Refugee and humanitarian groups see that as too little, too late as migrant movements across the sea usually peak from June until September. Meanwhile, small countries like Lebanon and Jordan are hosting hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict, mostly in Syria and Iraq.
As front-line states like Italy and Greece struggle to cope, the European Commission has sought to make the refugee plan mandatory because many countries haven't lived up to their pledges of solidarity with their neighbors in the past.
"You cannot impose solidarity. It comes from the very heart and mind," Hungary's ambassador to the EU, Peter Gyorkos, said Wednesday.
"We don't believe that a mandatory scheme is the right way forward," another EU diplomat said.
Around a dozen countries are known to oppose the introduction of a mandatory scheme. Another dozen support the plan on condition that its method for sharing out the refugees is changed.