The European Commission rolled out a new scheme on Wednesday to bring at least 50,000 refugees to Europe over the next two years, in a bid to curb illegal human smuggling in the Mediterranean.
The move came on the back of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's State of the Union address, in which he pledged the European Union (EU) would "present a new set of proposals with an emphasis on returns, solidarity with Africa, and opening legal pathways."
The new resettlement scheme, to be in place until October 2019, aims to "provide viable safe and legal alternatives for those who risk their lives at the hands of criminal smuggling networks," the Commission said in a press release.
The Commission underscored that increased focus should be put on resettling "vulnerable persons" from North Africa and the Horn of Africa, notably Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad, and Ethiopia.
"We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys. Investing in more legal pathways, both for protection but also for study or work, is therefore essential," said Dimitris Avramopoulos, commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship.
The EU's previous resettlement scheme, adopted in July 2015, has resettled some 23,000 refugees among EU member states.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Migration Agency, reported Tuesday that 134,549 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2017 through Sept. 24, with over 75 percent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain.
Meanwhile, 2,654 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the IOM.