AP, February 19, 2016
Austria vowed to press ahead early on Friday with plans to cap the number of asylum seekers entering the country despite claims the move would break the law, as European Union leaders struggled to end their fragmented approach to managing Europe’s biggest refugee emergency since World War II.
In tense late night talks in Brussels on Thursday, the leaders also decided to hold a summit in early March with Turkey, which has been the source of hundreds of thousands of people arriving in the EU over the last year, to push Ankara to tighten border controls.
In the latest in a series of uncoordinated and unilateral measures by nations, Austria announced that it would allow no more than 80 people a day to apply for asylum at its southern border points, as of Friday.
But the EU’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that “Austria has a legal obligation to accept any asylum application that is made on its territory or at its border.”
In a letter to Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, seen by The Associated Press, Avramopoulos said that a ceiling on asylum-seekers “would be plainly incompatible with Austria’s obligations” under EU and international law.
Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, was not moved, saying that his country would only accept 37,500 applications this year as planned.
“Last year, we had around 6,000 more asylum applications than Italy. We have had a lot more than asylum seekers than France. And anyone who has ever looked at a map knows that, for example, those two countries are larger than Austria and also have more inhabitants,” he told reporters after the summit.
In calling a summit with Turkey in just a few weeks, the leaders are looking at ways to persuade it to deliver on its pledge to crack down on refugees trying to cross into Greece.
The EU has offered Ankara 3 billion euros for the more than 2 million Syrian refugees on its territory, as well as easing visa rules for Turks and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process.