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EU softens line on refugee quotas

Associated Press Associated Press 14/11/2016 By LORNE COOK, Associated Press
Migrants wrapped in blankets disembark from the vessel Responder, run by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and the Italian Red Cross, in Vibo Valentia, southern Italy, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. About 400 disembarked after being rescued at sea in separate operations. (Francesco Malavolta/MOAS via AP) © The Associated Press Migrants wrapped in blankets disembark from the vessel Responder, run by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and the Italian Red Cross, in Vibo Valentia, southern Italy, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. About 400 disembarked after being rescued at sea in separate operations. (Francesco Malavolta/MOAS via AP)

BRUSSELS — In the face of strong opposition to migrant quotas, the European Union signaled Monday that it might not take action against countries refusing to share refugees from Greece and Italy as long as enough people find new homes.

EU countries agreed last September to relocate 160,000 refugees from overwhelmed Greece and Italy by September 2017 and set obligatory quotas for each nation.

While only around 7,000 refugees have been moved more than half way through the program, the European Commission says the pace is accelerating and could meet the goal by the target date.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said that "it should be possible to relocate everyone and that is what it is important to focus on."

Asked when legal action might come against those refusing to help, she said that if the overall target "is achieved, then that was the purpose of the relocation program in the first place."

The European Commission does, however, "reserve the right to take action" against those who don't comply.

As of last Friday, Austria, Denmark and Hungary hadn't accepted any refugees at all under the program.

Hungary even called a referendum on whether mandatory quotas should be imposed by the EU, but not enough people turned out to vote.

Meanwhile, the president of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party says it will present a draft in parliament adding anti-migrant clauses to the constitution.

While nearly identical to amendments sought by the government but rejected by parliament last week, Jobbik's version would also ban foreigners from acquiring Hungarian residency permits in exchange for purchasing a special state bond for 300,000 euros ($323,000).

The constitutional amendments initially proposed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban were meant to strengthen the government's position against any future European Union plan to resettle asylum-seekers among the 28-nation bloc's members.

Orban's Fidesz party was counting on Jobbik's support to pass the amendments on Nov. 8, but Jobbik president Gabor Vona tied their backing to the elimination of the residency bonds purchased mostly by Chinese and Russian citizens.

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Pablo Gorondi contributed to this report from Budapest, Hungary.

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