Austria sees 300,000 refugees reaching Italy by sea in 2016

Threatens to shut down Brenner Pass. Erdogan may halt EU deal

07 April, 20:14

    A refugee woman during a protest demanding the opening  of the borders at the border line between Greece and FYROM at Idomeni camp A refugee woman during a protest demanding the opening of the borders at the border line between Greece and FYROM at Idomeni camp

    (by Stefania Fumo).

    ROME - Vienna estimates the number of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean to Italy may double this year from 150,000 in 2015 to 300,000, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told Austrian news agency APA on Thursday.

    Mikl-Leitner spoke ahead of a Friday meeting with her Italian counterpart, Angelino Alfano. She said Austria may shut down its side of the Alpine Brenner Pass at the border with Italy if migrant flows become "uncontrollable", Mikl-Leitner told APA. "Italy cannot count on the fact that the Brenner will remain open if uncontrollable migrant flows arrive," she said.

    She also said she will ask Alfano about the status of Italy's hotspots for refugee identification and processing, and offer help if needed.

    "Countries lying on migration routes must be supported," she reportedly said.

    Austria in February set up controls on its side of the Brenner Pass, and capped at 37,500 the number of asylum seekers it is willing to take in this year - a quota it expects to reach by May, according to Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.

    Mikl-Leitner at the time fixed daily entry quotas at 80 for people seeking asylum in Austria and at 3,200 for people passing through on their way to another country.

    Such moves "would be clearly incompatible with (Austria's) obligations under EU and international law," European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a letter to Mikl-Leitner.

    Austria's anti-refugee measures prompted Premier Matteo Renzi to say EU member nations who fail to pull their weight in the asylum seeker crisis might lose their EU funding. "Either you show solidarity in taking and giving or we bet contributor countries will stop showing solidarity too," Renzi said at the time in comments praised by fellow EU founding members France and Germany.

    Also on Thursday, UNICEF warned that 22,000 children remain stranded in Greece - where they face an uncertain future and even forms of detention - since a deal on asylum seekers between the European Union and Turkey came into force. While deportations of migrants and refugees from the Greek islands to Turkey continue based on the recent agreement, UNICEF reminded states of their duty to take care of and protect all children and to offer them full possibilities to be listened to at the moment that decisions are being made about their future.

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