Friday 30 September 2016

Austria and Balkan nations 'want full stop to migrant influx'

Published 24/02/2016 | 16:21

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, right, and Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, centre, welcome Slovenia's foreign minister Karl Viktor Erjavec, left, before the start of the western Balkans conference in Vienna (AP)
Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, right, and Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, centre, welcome Slovenia's foreign minister Karl Viktor Erjavec, left, before the start of the western Balkans conference in Vienna (AP)

Overwhelmed by a wave of refugees and what they call indecision in the European Union, Austria and its southern neighbours along the Balkan migrant route agreed Wednesday to tighter border controls - and warned that sooner or later they will have to shut their doors entirely.

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Playing off warnings that the restrictions will lead to disastrous accumulations of refugees on borders along the route, Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner called for "a chain reaction of reason".

"We need measures that lead to a domino effect. We must reduce the flow of migrants now," she said. "Because the refugee question can become a question of survival for the European Union."

Interior and foreign ministers from EU members Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria, as well as Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia met Wednesday in Vienna and issued a declaration that struck the same tone.

It cited "limited resources and reception capacities, potential consequences for internal security and social cohesion as well as challenges with regard to integration".

"It is not possible to process unlimited numbers of migrants and applicants for asylum," it said, suggesting that a full stop in the future was inevitable.

Greece, the first point of landing for most of the migrants arriving by boat from Turkey, was not invited to the meeting and responded angrily by threatening to block decisions at a forthcoming EU migration summit if sharing of the refugee burden is not made obligatory for member states.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras said that from now on Greece "will not assent to agreements" unless all its partners in the EU are forced to participate proportionately in the relocation and resettlement of refugees.

A senior government official said that Mr Tsipras was specifically referring to the March 7 summit on immigration.

Mr Tsipras lashed out at EU member states that "not only erect fences on their borders but at the same time do not accept to take in a single refugee".

Austria has recently capped the number of asylum-seekers it will accept daily at its borders to 80, and limited the number of refugees it will let pass through the country.

That has led to more border restrictions being introduced further south, hurting countries along the route, including Greece, which has seen 102,000 migrants reach its shores so far this year.

In central Athens, several hundred Afghan migrants, who have been barred from crossing the border into Macedonia, camped out in an inner city square, lying on blankets or pieces of cardboard.

"I got here yesterday, but we haven't tried to go to the border," said Aman Golestani, a 22-year-old psychology student. "I don't know what I'll do now. We just hope the border will open."

Golestani, wearing a tracksuit top of the German football club Bayern Munich, said he was afraid to return home. "The Taliban are killing people like us, young people who are trying to get an education."

Press Association

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