The European Union's leaders have unveiled plans Wednesday to cope with the region's snowballing migrant crisis as fears mount that authorities are in danger of losing control of the problem.
In a "State of the Union" speech Wednesday morning, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker covered the biggest challenge currently facing the continent -- the influx of thousands of people arriving in Europe as they flee the war-torn Middle East, mainly from Syria, and Africa.
Speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker began his address by telling officials that Europe was "not in a good place" and said that the region had to have a humanitarian response and take concerted action to deal with the migrant situation.
"We can build walls, we can build fences but if it were you with your child in your arms with the world you knew torn apart around you,there is no price wouldn't pay, no wall you wouldn't climb and no border you wouldn't cross (to find refuge)…We have to accept these people on European territory," he urged.
Juncker said Europe had adopted improved measures to mitigate the migrant crisis, such as an increased maritime presence to rescue migrants making the dangerous crossing over the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats, but that more efforts needed to be made to dismantle human trafficking networks.
Juncker announced an "enhanced proposal" to help Greece, Italy and Hungary – the countries where migrants have been arriving in their thousands, many en route to Germany -- to cope with what it calls "the unprecedented emergency situation."
"I am calling on European member states to take 160,000 refugees, that's the number that Europeans have to take in their arms and I really hope that everyone will be on board - no rhetoric, action is needed for the time being," he said."
The total figure of 160,000 adds 120,000 people to the 40,000 that the Commission proposed in May to relocate from Greece and Italy that are struggling with the numbers of desperate people. The sharing out of migrants would now be done in a "compulsory way," Juncker said.
Many of the national representatives in the parliament displayed placards saying "Solidarity with refugees", although Juncker was heckled by anti-Europe politician Nigel Farage, whose comments were dismissed by the commission president.
There had also been rumors that some countries could pay money to opt out of a quota system but no mention of this was made during the address. Rather, Juncker proposed a permanent relocation mechanism "for all Member States which can be triggered any time by the Commission to help any EU-Member State experiencing a crisis situation."
"The measures we are proposing today will ensure that people in clear need of international protection are relocated swiftly after arriving – not just now but also for any crisis in the future," Jucker said.
The plans could prove controversial in several countries that say they have not got the resources to cope with more migrants and several governments are already facing a tide of anti-immigration sentiment among the public.
And there are no signs that the flow of migrants arriving in Europe might be slowing down: The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, has forecast that at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean seeking refuge in Europe this year and next, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Governments in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic are generally opposed to mandatory quotas although Germany and France have said they are prepared to accept thousands of migrants, although they have asked the rest of Europe to "pull its weight."
Although the migrant crisis has been in and out of the news frequently over the last year, particularly with several highly-publicised loss of hundreds of migrants aboard boats in the Meditterranean that have capsized, the migrant crisis has dominated headlines in the last week with thousands of refugees trekking northwards through Europe looking for asylum.
At the weekend, Germany and Austria decided to waive border checks in order to let thousands of refugees gathered in Hungary – where 150,000 people have arrived this year - - to enter their countries. Germany has said it expects to deal with 800,000 asylum seekers this year alone.
On Tuesday, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the country could cope with 500,000 a year for several years to come, speaking to German broadcaster ZDF Television.