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EU urges Member States to 'act now' on asylum seekers

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union on Wednesday called on Member States to "act now" to accommodate tens of thousands of asylum seekers rather than wait until September when pressure eases.

European sources said Tuesday that EU member states were unlikely to agree on a programme to take in 40,000 asylum seekers this month, meaning a decision is not expected before September.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, proposed the scheme last month to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, which are battling to cope with unprecedented numbers of migrants fleeing conflict and hardship across the Mediterranean to Europe.

"The reality is there to remind us why we do need to act now and not in four months time," Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told a press conference on Wednesday after another 6,000 migrants landed on European shores over the weekend.

Bertaud said an "ambitious proposal" is on the table to distribute asylum seekers across the 28-nation bloc.

"We knew it would not win any popularity prizes, but we do expect the (interior) ministers meeting in the home affairs council next week to take their responsibility on this matter," she added.

Interior ministers are set to meet Monday and Tuesday and the migration issue will be on the agenda but "there will be no decision", said Janis Berzins, spokesman for Latvia's rotating presidency of the EU.

EU leaders will continue the discussions at a summit in Brussels on June 25-26 but the migration programme "will be hard to sell", a European source said.

No further meetings are expected over the summer, meaning that European officials will not discuss the issue again until September, sources said.

Bertaud recalled that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was concerned that in a few months time that the asylum topic would become "unfashionable."

The commission's emergency plan unveiled in May involves member states accepting 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea, who have landed in overstretched Italy and Greece.

A further 20,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps beyond Europe's borders would be directly resettled on the continent.

But several member states have raised objections to the plan, especially over binding quotas for how many asylum seekers each country should take.

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