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As migrants flood Greece, EU leaders debate mandatory quotas

A meeting of European heads of state to address the migrant crisis turned into debate over a quota deal that would settle 120,000 asylum seekers across the continent over two years. Four countries made loud objections while the UN refugee agency has criticized the plan for not being sufficient. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on the scene in Athens as more refugees arrive.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    More than 2,500 refugees arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos today, representing a sharp spike in arrivals on the island. In Brussels, European Union leaders held tense discussions. They are split on the continent's response to the unfolding crisis.

    Hari Sreenivasan has more.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Those tense discussions have centered on how many refugees will be resettled across the 28 countries of the European Union, and who will pay for them.

    But, as ministers talked in Brussels, the arrivals of refugees and migrants continued in Athens, which is where special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is tonight.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The typical day on the migrant trail: the arrival at Athens' main port of a ferry from Lesbos, the island where most asylum seekers enter Greece.

    Just one ship disgorges some 2,000 people. Sometimes, there are three ferries a day, a fraction of the problem being discussed by European leaders who met in Brussels today. Many have not eaten during the 15-hour voyage, and storm a feeding station set up by a group of Muslims from Northern England.

    This crisis is undermining the two-decade experiment of a united Europe, as prime ministers and presidents fight over how to respond to the influx. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are doing what they can, in this case trying to provide more than 1,000 meals a day.

  • MAN:

    Obviously, life — life as they know it doesn't exist anymore. If I knew what Europe could do, I wouldn't be here. All I know is these people, they are homeless. They're foodless. Whatever we can do to help them.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Similar chaotic scenes play out in Athens' Victoria Square, where hungry migrant children fight to grab a milk carton from a charity bundle delivered by a Greek.

    This square is a staging post for those at the wrong end of the refugee class system devised by Europe. Priority has been given to Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis, but many of those in Victoria are from Central Asia, and the Afghans especially wonder why the continuing conflict in their country is not considered as perilous.

  • MAN:

    You know better. In Afghanistan, there's a war, Taliban, Da'esh, because people don't war. People want peace.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    But, in Brussels, the argument is over the present and a plan to distribute 120,000 refugees by quotas across the 28 members of the European Union.

  • European Council President Donald Tusk:

  • DONALD TUSK, President, European Council:

    We have now reached a critical point where we need to end this cycle of mutual recriminations and misunderstandings. Today, our debate must be based on facts, not illusions and to emotions.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Heads of states convened this evening to discuss financial assistance to help with the refugees both in Europe and in the Middle East. But the main debate was on the quota deal, voted through by a majority of European interior ministers yesterday.

    It came over the loud objections of four countries: Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, whose foreign minister blasted the plan.

  • PRIME MINISTER ROBERT FICO, Slovakia (through interpreter):

    Slovakia will file a legal complaint against mandatory redistribution of refugees. We will not implement these decisions of the interior ministers, because the quotas are meaningless. The system will not work and Slovakia will not be forced to adopt quotas.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The European Union plan to resettle 120,000 migrants has been criticized by the U.N. Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. A spokeswoman said the relocation plan was just not sufficient to resolve the crisis. She complained that it was only 120,000 spread over two years. And considering that, as of today, 480,000 people had arrived in Europe by boat, the numbers were clearly not sufficient. She said the E.U. states would have to revise those figures upwards and resettle more.

    In order to pacify reluctant European nations, the commission president is reportedly promising measures to speed up the deportation of failed asylum seekers. So many of these people in Victoria Square could have paid a fortune and risked their lives for nothing.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

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