European Commission offer to pay EU states for each refugee taken as part to plan to accept 40,000 asylum seekers

The proposed payments are the latest EU response to a crisis that has seen more than 80,000 people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year

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The European Commission said it would pay EU member states up to €6,000 (£4,250) for each refugee taken in as part of a plan to accept 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea over the next two years.

The proposed payments, for relocation and housing, are the latest EU response to the migration crisis that has seen more than 80,000 people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, and over 1,800 perishing on the journey.

The plan details how the 40,000 asylum seekers will be spread across Europe, with Germany (21.91 per cent), France (16.88) and Spain (10.72) assigned the biggest quotas. “This is a fair distribution,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in Brussels. He pleaded for “minimum solidarity” for Italy and Greece, the main gateway states for the migrants.

In return, Italy and Greece will have step up efforts to properly identify and fingerprint each asylum seeker upon arrival – they would then be relocated to another member state or sent back to their home country.

However, the €240 million (£170m) plans are likely to meet opposition, with many EU governments baulking at the idea of quotas. France, initially a supporter of the scheme, is now opposed. Spain, Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia have also raised concerns, while Britain, Ireland and Denmark – who have the right not to take part – all say they will opt out.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged EU governments to do more. “It would seem that some member states are reluctant, but they have to accept that it’s not about words, it’s about action,” Juncker said.

The plan was backed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But Mr Ban was cautious about another element of the EU’s reponse, a naval mission agreed by foreign ministers last week to stop people-smuggling gangs in the  Mediterranean.

“Our priority should be given to life saving,” he said.

Italian trial: Life sentence for trafficker

Italy has handed its first life sentence to a trafficker linked to the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean.

A court in Catania sentenced 23-year-old Tunisian Haj Hammouda Radouan to life for multiple manslaughter and causing a shipwreck after the vessel he was captaining sank between Libya and Lampedusa with the estimated loss of 200 lives in May last year. The court sentenced Radouan’s assistant, Hamid Bouchab, of Morocco, to 10 years’ imprisonment. Michael Day