European countries lost control over refugee crisis, should act in national interests – Austrian FM

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The EU refugee and migration policy is not working, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said at the monthly meeting of his EU counterparts, stressing that Europe “has lost control” over the situation and urgently needs a new solution.

“We have lost control. At the moment, it is not we as the EU, but it is people smugglers, who decide who comes to us,” Kurz said during the meeting, highlighting the failures of the current EU refugee and migration policy, as reported by the Austrian Kronen Zeitung daily.

“We believe that a Europe-wide solution is urgently needed but, as long as there is no [such solution], Austria will have to take measures on the national level,” Kurz said, as quoted by the Kronen Zeitung.

Outlining Austria’s stance on the issue, Kurz said that the only way to regain control over the situation is to disrupt the people smugglers’ business model. And this can be done only by stopping the policy of simply accepting all migrants and refugees coming to Europe illegally via people smuggling routes.

According to the plan Kurz unveiled at the meeting on Monday, the migrants and refugees that come to Europe illegally will not be allowed to stay or continue their journey. Instead, they will be sent back to the specially established Refugee and Migration Centers located in some “third countries,” particularly in the North Africa.

The centers should be operated jointly by the EU and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and all the aid required will be supplied to these centers while the EU develops legal ways for the refugees to travel to Europe after their applications are processed.

Kurz also urged the EU to find more “partners for cooperation” in addition to Turkey, which agreed to stem the flow of migrants to the EU in exchange for the financial aid as part of the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

"What is possible in Turkey and Greece should also be possible for Italy and Libya,” Kurz said, adding that “only this [measure] has significantly reduced the flood of people coming from Turkey to Greece. And that means that fewer of them die on their way."

The third countries that agree to cooperate with the EU on the issue and allow building of the refugee centers on their territory should be rewarded with financial assistance, while those who refuse to work with the bloc, should be deprived of financial aid from the union, Kurz said.

The minister also criticized Italy, saying its citizens just wave arriving refugees and migrants through their territory without properly attempting to curb the flow. He also complained that the inflow of migrants is still “too high,” adding that about 25,000 people came to Austria only and stressing that it is “a too large number for the first six months of the year.”

Kurz also said that his proposal was met with understanding by other EU member states.

“When the details are discussed, I see that almost all my negotiation partners understand that the current system does not work,” he said, as quoted by the Kronen Zeitung.

In early June, Kurz already voiced similar ideas by suggesting following the Australian model in migration policy. People that are trying to cross the Mediterranean to come to Europe illegally should be sent back or resettled on islands, he said at that time.

He also argued that Europe must take a tougher stance on refugees if the EU is to avoid being destroyed.

In the meantime, Austria faces an increasing pressure of the refugee crisis. On June 12, police had to use pepper spray to stop violent clashes between left- and right-wing activists in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Thirteen attacks were recorded on Austrian refugee centers in just the first three months of 2016, according to the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, the region of Upper Austria cut the financial benefits for refugees by almost half from what is paid to the locals. The benefits were slashed from €900 to €500 (US$1,012 to $563) in a move criticized by the UNHCR, which claimed that such a small financial aid will make it impossible for refugees to pay rent and buy food. At the same time, an additional €155 is paid to those who agree to learn German and take integration courses.

Responding to the criticism, local politician Wolfgang Hattmannsdorfer stressed that the measure was necessary to prevent the collapse of the regional welfare system, adding that the mass influx of asylum seekers had forced the decision upon the local authorities. The region reportedly was able to save around €70 million by taking this measure, the Local reports.

Austrian government also announced that it would spend €50 million for new German courses that will be provided to the asylum seekers as early as possible, even before they obtain refugee status. The refugees are also expected to attend value and orientation courses as their applications are processed.