UK pledges to take up to 20,000 more Syrian refugees

The U.K. will take in up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday, as pressure mounts on governments across Europe to respond to the massive influx of migrants and refugees.

"We are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this parliament. In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion," Cameron said in a statement to parliament on Monday afternoon.

Cameron and other leaders were pushed into action after the harrowing image of a Syrian toddler's body on a Turkish beach caused an outcry across Europe, with the public calling for further action and humanitarian aid to be distributed among refugees fleeing civil war in the Middle East.

However, the issue remains highly contentious with many opposed to rising immigration, in general, and against taking in more refugees.

Syrian refugees and other migrants are stopped by Macedonian police at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Aug. 22, 2015.
Yannis Behrakis | Reuters
Syrian refugees and other migrants are stopped by Macedonian police at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Aug. 22, 2015.

Nonetheless, French President Francois Hollande also said his country would welcome 24,000 refugees, on Monday.

Hollande said he and German leader Angela Merkel wanted the 28-country European Union to back a "permanent, mandatory system" under which each country would be obliged to take its fair share of a total of 120,000 migrants.

"This is a crisis, and it is a grave and dramatic one. It can be brought under control and it will be," he told a news conference, according to Reuters.

Europe split on handling crisis

Hollande's comments came after a weekend of confusing rhetoric from European leaders.

On Saturday, Austria and Germany decided to allow in thousands of migrants travelling via Hungary, which is a key conduit country for migrants trying to reach Western Europe.

However, on Sunday, Austria said it planned to halt the influx, after "intensive talks" with Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely," said Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, according to Reuters.

"We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation. Now we have to move step by step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity."

Read MoreBy numbers: Europe's migrant crisis

Merkel has come under pressure from members of her conservative coalition to revoke the decision that has allowed entry to Germany by an estimated 20,000 migrants, according to one German government official.

On Monday, Merkel said that Germany could handle 800,000 asylum seekers this year but could not continue to accept people at that rate, Reuters reported.

Opt out of taking migrants?

Also on Monday, the Financial Times newspaper reported that European Commission officials were debating a proposal that would allow some European countries to pay money in order to opt out of a mooted mandatory quota system for accepting up to 160,000 refugees. The Commission declined to comment on the report when contacted by CNBC.

Hungary's Orban has rejected the call for quotas saying that the European Union should instead set up a fund to help third countries like Turkey to handle mass migration there.

Orban also said that people fleeing to Germany should be seen as immigrants rather than refugees, as they were seeking a "German life" and were refusing to stay in the first country they reached.

Read MoreWhy Europe migrant crisis risks turning into disaster

Tina Fordham, chief global political analyst at Citi, told CNBC Monday that many European leaders faced a difficult situation with public opinion shifting both in favor of helping immigrants and restricting immigration.

"This is a very tricky issue for political leaders and we see how many European leaders have been caught wrong-footed because they're very aware of the fact that populations in Europe are concerned about immigration and anti-immigration sentiment is high…however, the photo of the drowned toddler in Turkey caused a shift in public opinion," she said.

"(But) at what point does the need to respond to the human crisis turn into something much more about the concerns about unemployment and all of the other long-standing issues that people have."

Tensions high in Balkans

Further south, tensions were high at the Macedonian border with Greece, where scuffles broke out between police and thousands of people attempting to head north into the European Union, the Associated Press reported.

About 2,000 people gathered at the Greek border near the village of Idomeni just after dawn, attempting to cross into Macedonia and deeper into the heart of Europe.

However, Macedonian authorities were allowing only small groups to cross every half-hour, leading to tension. The situation later calmed after more were allowed to cross, with about 1,000 having passed the border by midday.

Greek police said that about 5,000 people had crossed the border heading north in the 24 hours from Sunday morning to Monday morning.

Greece's migration minister estimated that at least two-thirds of the 15,000-18,000 refugees and economic migrants stranded in "miserable" conditions on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos will be ferried to the mainland in the next five days. Lesbos bears the brunt of the refugee influx, with more than 1,000 arriving daily on frail boats from nearby Turkey.

—AP and Reuters contributed to this report.