Cutting the influx of migrants is now a ‘question of survival’ for Europe, warns Austria as it blasts the EU for failing to tackle the crisis

  • Minister made warning after hosting summit for countries on Balkan route
  • Austria already under fire for limits on number of migrants entering country
  • Said they hoped to create pressure ‘so the EU can reach a solution’ 

Austria warned yesterday that reducing the record influx of migrants was a ‘question of survival’ for the European Union.

Vienna has come under fire from Germany and Greece for imposing daily limits on the number of migrants that can apply for asylum or pass through to other countries.

It hosted a summit yesterday with ministers from nine countries along the west Balkans route used by migrants travelling from Greece towards northern Europe.

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the countries 'had to reduce the influx now' 
Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the countries ‘had to reduce the influx now’

‘We have to reduce the influx now. This is a question of survival for the EU,’ Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said after the talks. Austria believes measures are necessary because the EU has failed to get off the ground any effective common response to the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since 1945.

‘We want to generate pressure so that the EU can reach a solution. A partnership with Balkan countries is not only in the interest of these countries but also of the EU. We want to generate pressure and urgency,’ Mrs Mikl-Leitner said.

A joint statement from the participants said that after hundreds of thousands of people trekked through the Balkans last year, many ending up in Germany, Sweden and also Austria, the inflow must be ‘massively reduced’.

Countries throughout the western Balkans have begun unilaterally to impose restrictions, largely because of Austria imposing limits.

Macedonia has closed its frontier to Afghans and introduced more stringent document checks for Syrians and Iraqis seeking to travel to northern and western Europe. ‘We did not take a unilateral decision,’ Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Poposki said. ‘We reacted because of the actions of other countries.’

Greece, where thousands of Afghans have been held up at the Macedonian border, angrily protested at being excluded from the ministerial meeting in Vienna, underscoring the deep rifts within the EU.

Thousands of migrants desperately cross into Austria in October

She said the very survival of the European Union relied upon something being done quickly. Austria has already put its own daily limit in place

Austrian officials said that the conclusions of the talks would be presented to a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers today in Brussels. Mrs Mikl-Leitner also announced the creation from April 1 of an international command centre with Interpol and Europol based in Vienna to combat people-smugglers.

Hungary’s prime minister yesterday called a referendum on whether his country would accept an EU plan to share out refugees that he warned would ‘redraw Europe’s ethnic, cultural and religious identity’.

Viktor Orban said the scheme to relocate 160,000 people was ‘nothing but an abuse of power’.

The Hungarian government attempted to stop the introduction of the quota system in September but it was outvoted at a summit in Brussels.

Mr Orban said yesterday: ‘We cannot make above the heads of people, against the wishes of European people, decisions that seriously change their lives, and the lives of future generations. The quota could redraw Europe’s ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Neither Brussels nor any other European body is authorised to do that.’

Austria hosted a meeting of the countries along the western Balkan route preferred by most migrants

Austria hosted a meeting of the countries along the western Balkan route preferred by most migrants

The referendum will ask voters: ‘Do you want the EU to prescribe the mandatory relocation of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without the approval of the Hungarian parliament?’

In December, Hungary joined Slovakia in filing a legal complaint against the plan, which would see Hungary take in 2,300 migrants.

The scheme was set up to share 160,000 migrants currently in Greece and Italy, but so far, barely 600 people have been relocated and only some countries have offered places for them.

Mr Orban has been an outspoken critic of the EU’s response to the migrant crisis, saying it has ignored the terrorism angle.

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