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An emergency plan to force countries to accept their share of 160,000 refugees was outlined Wednesday by the president of the European Commission.
In a speech to the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker urged Europeans to welcome refugees.
He said Europe was a continent where almost everyone had been a refugee at some time or another, and it was rich enough to cope with a challenge far smaller than the one facing Syria's neighbors — Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
"It is Europe today that represents a place of hope. This is something to be proud of and not something to fear," the former Luxembourg prime minister said in a marathon 80-minute speech. "The Europe I want to live in is illustrated by those who want to help."
Listing the problem top among a written list of priorities, before the economy, Ukraine, climate change and a looming vote on Britain's membership of the bloc, he said the crisis was caused by "war, terror and instability in our neighborhood."
Former communist central European states vehemently oppose any mandatory distribution of refugees. Juncker reminded them pointedly that refugees fleeing Soviet repression in their countries had been welcomed in large numbers in western Europe.
And he took a dig at Hungary's building of a frontier fence by saying desperate families fleeing Syria would cross any barrier and brave many dangers to escape their homeland.