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BRUSSELS—European countries are considering a plan to take in Syrian refugees directly out of Turkey if Ankara makes good on its promises and reduces the number of people crossing illegally to Greece.

The European Commission’s plan, which wouldnt be mandatory for member states, sets no numerical targets for how many people to bring in but outlines that work would be accelerated so that arrivals could start within six months.

The plan reflects German efforts to convince other European Union countries to take in more Syrian refugees and replace illegal migration with legal streams. Many refugees in Turkey have already had their status and claims checked by United Nations agencies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and around a dozen EU leaders on Thursday ahead of a regular summit here. The EU last month agreed to pay €3 billion ($3.3 billion) to projects aimed at integrating and helping refugees in Turkey, in return for Ankara clamping down on people-smuggling rings and taking back people from neighboring EU countries.

“We expect leaders to make the pledges of the numbers, and to make it clearly conditional on Turkey reducing the influx of migrants,” said one EU official.

But tolerance in Europe for taking in more refugees is limited, after one million migrants have made their way, mostly via Turkey and Greece, to a few affluent Western countries, notably Germany and the Nordic countries.

Sweden, one of Ms. Merkel’s allies in her open-door policy on migrants has recently changed tack, saying it can no longer cope with the high numbers of asylum seekers.

On Tuesday, the bloc’s executive recommended Sweden be exempted for one year from its obligations under an EU program of taking in refugees who arrived in Italy and Greece.

Sweden had been the first country to take part in that program and has so far accepted some 30 refugees out of a total of 5,700 people it was supposed to receive in 2016-2017.

“Our Swedish friends are in a unique situation and we must take into account the exceptional increase in asylum applications that they are facing,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

Stockholm’s second request, to have more than 50,000 refugees moved from Sweden to other EU countries under that same program, hasnt yet won Brussels backing, officials said.

The commission fears that if countries like Sweden and Germany, who have taken in huge numbers of refugees, are granted that help, the EU’s promise to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers who are already in the EU across the bloc, will founder.

The relocation program, approved in September, is already facing multiple challenges. Slovakia has taken the EU to court over the decision, which was approved by a majority of countries despite the objections of Slovakia and others.

Poland’s new government has also sent mixed signals on whether it will stand by its commitment to welcome thousands of asylum seekers.

Another problem is finding people who want to take part in the program and the logistics of organizing flights. Only 208 people have been moved out of Italy and Greece through mid-December, the commission said.

On Monday, Luxembourg’s migration and foreign affairs minister, Jean Asselborn, acknowledged those pressures, saying it seemed unlikely many people will be relocated around the EU in the next few months.

He suggested instead that the bloc consider taking 50,000 refugees directly from Turkey and settle them and in return reduce the relocation target by the same amount to 110,000.

The commission also put forward a controversial proposal to create a new EU border agency that would have the authority to deploy guards at the bloc’s external border even when the country concerned refuses to ask for EU help.

“Could we impose this against the will of member states? I see this as a safety net, as an ultimate measure that is possible theoretically but practically I don’t think it will happen very often, if at all,” said EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

He said no decision would be taken without consulting other EU countries first and that normally any country in difficulty would want help. The measure was proposed after Brussels and other capitals pressured Greece for months to request assistance at its borders.

SOURCE: http://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-mulls-taking-refugees-directly-from-turkey-1450192024

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