BBC News, Brussels
By Oana Lungescu
The European Commission is set to unveil plans to allow more refugees from conflict zones and poor nations into European countries.
The scheme is aimed at discouraging immigrants – mainly from Africa – from attempting to reach Europe illegally.
Many risk their lives as they try to enter the EU, often relying on human traffickers.
Of all the refugees resettled around the world last year, only 7% were accepted by EU countries.
The Commission – the EU’s executive arm – wants to help people who have fled humanitarian crises like the one in Iraq.
Two million Iraqis are now leading a precarious life in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Under the new scheme EU nations would decide together every year which refugee groups should be given priority for resettlement, and receive more money from a joint fund to give them a new home.
The EU is also trying to improve its image on the world stage. Last year, the 27-nation bloc accepted fewer than 6,000 people, compared to more than 60,000 resettled in the US.
A spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Gilles van Moortel, said: “It is true that at the moment 10 out of 27 member states have resettlement programmes, so we hope that with the EU joint resettlement scheme and with the resettlement of the Iraqi refugees things will change”.
Belgium is one of the EU countries opening its doors to vulnerable Iraqi refugees for the first time. Thirty-six are arriving on Wednesday from Syria and Jordan, with 11 more to come later this month, including a 16-year-old girl who worked as an interpreter for the American troops. For them, it is a new start in Europe, but for so many others, the future remains uncertain.