BRUSSELS — European Union interior ministers fell well short Monday of finding takers for the relocation of 40,000 refugees who have made perilous boat trips across the Mediterranean into Italy and Greece.
At a meeting, the EU nations committed to relocating a total of 32,256 refugees from the two southern European nations, with Germany taking the biggest share at 10,500. Some nations, like Britain and Denmark, were legally not bound to cooperate while Austria and Hungary said they would not take any.
The special meeting was called to break a stalemate within the 28-nation EU over how to divide up the refugees in an equitable way over the next two years. It came amid criticism that any solution for the number under consideration would still be insufficient by far to contain the migrant crisis in Europe this year.
Earlier this month, the UN said some 137,000 people had arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta alone, with many more coming by land across the Balkans.
However, the ministers did meet a separate target for the resettlement of 20,000 refugees who are now in third countries, promising to take a total of 22,504 people. Britain and Denmark agreed to take part, while non-EU nations like Norway and Switzerland also agreed to help meet that target. Norway agreed to take 3,500 and Switzerland 519.
"Figures are sometimes encouraging, something disappointing, sometimes even, perhaps, embarrassing," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting.
He said Hungary and Austria are already facing the pressure of recent high migration. He said he still hoped to get to the combined total of 60,000 late this year.
The shortfall was immediately criticized.
"The fact that member states have failed to reach an agreement on the relocation of just 40,000 refugees after five months is ludicrous," said Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialists in the European Union. "The amount of time and political energy that is being wasted on this issue is frankly farcical," he said.