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BERLIN – Germany and Sweden called Tuesday for fellow European Union countries to accept a system of quotas to ensure a fair distribution of refugees across all 28 member states, with no upper limit on the overall number the bloc will receive.
Current EU rules require that people fleeing war and persecution apply for asylum in the first member state they reach. This has overwhelmed some countries on the EU's outer borders, leading them to encourage migrants to keep traveling to countries such as Germany.
"We need binding quotas for refugees who have the right to asylum so they are fairly distributed according to strict principles among the member states," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to put forward a proposal for a quota system Wednesday that Merkel said would be a first step, though a final agreement was likely still far off.
"This is a challenge that will decide the future of Europe, whether we are accepted as a continent of values and individual freedom," Merkel said. "In this question, where the whole world is looking to us, we can't simply say Syria is too far away, we're not going to deal with the problem."
The open-ended quota system envisaged by Germany and others would take into account a receiving country's population size, economic prowess and unemployment. German officials anticipate some 800,000 asylum requests this year, and Merkel's deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, has said the country can sustain "something in the order of a half-million for a few years."
Lofven said he was disappointed some countries were ignoring their responsibility to help those in need. "If people knock on the door who are fleeing from war, terror, rape, then we have to open the door," he said.