Migrant crisis: Austria asylum cap begins despite EU anger

Source: BBC

Austria’s daily cap on the number of migrants and refugees allowed into the country has come into force.

Just 80 asylum applications will be accepted each day at Austria’s southern border, after which it will shut.

The European migration commissioner has described the measure as “plainly incompatible” with European Union law.

EU leaders have announced they will hold a summit in early March with Turkey to attempt to seek fresh solutions to the crisis.

“The EU-Turkey action plan is our priority,” European Council President Donald Tusk said at an EU gathering in Brussels.

EU migration: Crisis in seven charts

The EU has pledged €3bn (£2.3bn; $3.3bn) to Turkey in return for housing refugees on its territory.

More than a million people arrived in the EU in 2015, creating Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

The majority of migrants and refugees have headed for Germany via Austria, which saw 90,000 asylum claims last year, equivalent to 1% of its population.

At the border: Bethany Bell, BBC News, Spielfeld

Refugees and migrant children look through a border fence after they crossed the Slovenian-Austrian border, near the village of Spielfeld, Austria (16 February 2016)Image copyrightEPA

There are concerns that the new daily limits on asylum seekers here at Austria’s southern border will lead to backlogs of migrants in Slovenia.

But police here have told me they will close the border if more than 80 people claim asylum here in a day, or if more than 3,200 want to transit through to neighbouring countries.

However, they also say that since the establishment of the new border control centre at Spielfeld, those numbers have not yet been reached.

Austria’s leaders fear that is just a matter of time, unless an EU-wide solution can be agreed. Many locals, concerned about the increasing number of new arrivals, agree.

Others say wealthy Austria is more than able to deal with the refugees. And they are concerned that the hard-won freedom of movement between Austria and Slovenia is being eroded.

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Austria border map

Vienna says the daily limit is needed because the EU plan for Turkey to restrict the number of migrants leaving for Europe is not yet working.

Last year, 476,000 people applied for asylum in Germany, although the final figure is likely to be far higher. The highest number in the EU according to population size was in Sweden, where some 163,000 people sought asylum.

Sweden has now imposed border controls to reduce the influx and said on Thursday it was planning to house some asylum seekers on a cruise ship because of a lack of facilities.

The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has written to Austria’s interior minister, saying the cap is plainly incompatible with Austria’s obligations under EU and international law.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker criticised the Austrian move, remarking that “solo national approaches were not recommended”.

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