BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe should agree to take in half a million refugees from the Middle East over the next five years in a legal resettlement program if it wants to curb massive illegal migration, the International Rescue Committee charity said on Wednesday.
In a report issued on the eve of an EU summit with Turkey on controlling migration, the New York-based group said it was "a fair and achievable minimum target" for the European Union to resettle 108,000 refugees a year, half of them from Syria.
EU leaders are due to discuss a more modest plan to take in one legal Syrian refugee from Turkey for each illegal Syrian asylum seeker the Turks take back from Greece's Aegean islands. Their aim is to smash the business model of people smugglers and give refugees an incentive to stay put and wait in Turkey.
While the summit proposal sets no upper limit, EU officials said the one-for-one resettlement goal would be met initially within member states' existing commitments, which would mean taking in a maximum of 72,000 more people.
"Europe can and must do more," said the IRC, led by former British foreign minister David Miliband, which is both a humanitarian aid agency and a refugee resettlement organization.
"The choice for Europe is not between having refugees and having no refugees," Miliband told Reuters in an interview. "It is whether refugees come in a legal, orderly, managed way or in an illegal, disorderly, smuggler-enriching way."
The IRC proposal was based on the assumption that the number of Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe would keep on growing, he said.
Miliband said that while it was positive that the EU was looking toward resettling refugees directly from the region, the one-for-one scheme risked creating perverse incentives for Turkey, since it could only send Syrians to Europe legally if it first let them cross to Greece illegally.
Asked whether it was realistic to expect EU countries facing a backlash against migration to create a legal resettlement program on that scale, he said the scheme had to be large enough to give refugees in the region hope.
Creating such a "legal pipeline for resettlement" was the best way to move from a chaotic to an orderly system that could reassure anxious European populations, he added.
(Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)