BRUSSELS (AP) — Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi clashed Thursday with European Union leaders reluctant to help ease pressure on Italy and Greece by taking in thousands of refugees arriving in the two countries.
More than 114,000 migrants have been plucked from the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Some 2,600 have died or gone missing during the often-perilous sea crossing.
The EU wants to oblige member countries to share 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans requiring international protection who are expected to arrive in Italy and Greece over the next two years. But many of the 28 nations are refusing to have migrant numbers dictated to them from Brussels.
"If you don't agree with 40,000 refugees you don't deserve to be called Europe," Renzi was quoted as saying to fellow EU leaders during an emotional plea at a summit in Brussels.
"If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it. Either there is solidarity or don't waste our time," he said, according to an EU diplomat, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were not public.
Around a dozen nations oppose the EU plan. A further 12 that would support it want the method for sharing out the refugees reassessed. The 'distribution key' foreseen by the EU takes into account the population, economic strength, unemployment rates and current efforts already undertaken to help refugees.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that her country would participate "but on a voluntary basis."
While EU leaders have made pledges to help front-line migration countries in the past, their promises have sometimes vaporized once the media spotlight dims.
Earlier, EU President Donald Tusk called for a crackdown on migrants who are only looking for jobs and do not qualify for international protection, as opposed to those fleeing war or persecution.
"We need to contain illegal migration and this should be our priority," Tusk said. "All those who are not legitimate asylum-seekers will have no guarantee that they will stay in Europe."
European coast guards have been unable to cope with the influx, with migrant reception centers in Italy and Greece completely overwhelmed even as the summer migrant crossing season is just beginning.
Hungary, for one, plans to build a border fence to stop the flood of migrants entering from Serbia.
"There is only one solution — everyone must defend their own borders," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters. "In the next years, millions are going to take to the road if they feel they have a chance to get in," he said.
As the leaders haggled in Brussels, more migrants landed at Italian ports. The Swedish navy ship Poseidon brought 497 migrants to Catania after they were rescued in the waters south of Sicily, as well as the body of an elderly woman.
The migrants were at sea "for 10 or 12 days, and they hadn't had any food or water," Poseidon Capt. Claes Jacobsson said. "Several of them were quite dehydrated."
Among the migrants were many Syrians, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese, officials said.