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5 Mar, 2017 13:14

Austrian FM calls for refugee centers outside of EU borders

Austrian FM calls for refugee centers outside of EU borders

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz has argued his case for the opening of refugee centers outside the borders of the European Union suggesting Georgia and the Western Balkans as possible locations.

“We need refugee centers outside the EU, which are operated together with the UNHCR [UN Refugee agency]”, Kurz said in an interview with the German Bild newspaper. He was joined by Jens Spahn, a member of Germany's ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

According to the Austrian FM, the location of these camps is not important. What is important for such camps is to “provide protection” and “that people, who are trying to enter Europe illegally, are brought back,” he added.

Such facilities could be located in Egypt, Georgia or a country in the Western Balkans, Kurz said, adding that the Mediterranean route should be closed for illegal immigrants.

“It is easier to stop and bring back someone at the EU's external border than when he has already moved into a flat in Vienna or Berlin,” Kurz stated.

When asked whether immigration threatens Europe with Islamization, Kurz stated that Europe has freedom of religion, but political Islamism “has no place” in the EU.

READ MORE: 40% of refugees in Austria put religion above law – study

Kurz’s comments come ahead of an anticipated resurgence in the number of those making the arduous journey into Europe along the Balkan corridor during the warmer summer months.

Over the last number of years the EU has experienced a massive increase in the number of those seeking asylum, precipitated by a bloody war in Syria where an estimated 4.8 million have fled the country in search of safety.

The majority of Syrian refugees have crossed to camps in neighbouring countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, but roughly 1 million have requested asylum in Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing wars and poverty in North Africa have also made the oft life threatening journey across the Mediterranean Sea, seeking a better life in Europe.

READ MORE: Calais ‘Jungle’ camp demolition resumes after night of violence (VIDEOS)

Kurz has repeatedly taken a harsh stance on the EU policies toward refugees. In October 2016, he blasted proposed refugee quotas, imposed by the EU, as “totally unrealistic.”

The distribution of refugees by such quotas doesn’t function because many countries are not ready to receive a high number of asylum seekers, he argued.

In June 2016, he stated that the EU refugee and migration policy is not working and Europe “has lost control” of the situation.

Last year, Kurz also suggested that Europe should look to mimic the asylum system practiced by the Australian government.

Asylum seekers are interned indefinitely on small islands in the Pacific Ocean until they are processed, either being accepted into Australia or turned away.

"The Australian model of course cannot be completely replicated but its principles can be applied in Europe," Kurz told Die Presse last summer.

READ MORE: Austria moves to strip rejected asylum seekers of food & shelter

Following the FMs remarks, the Georgian ambassador to Austria, Konstantine Zaldastanishvili, approached Kurz’s office to comment on the proposed migrant camps in Georgia.

“We were told that Kurz mentioned Georgia only incidentally and had nothing particular in mind,” Zaldastanishvili told Rustavi-2 channel.

According to the ambassador, the statement from Kurz was “unexpected and strange” as the Austrian minister was on an official visit to Georgia in February, but never mentioned the idea of migrant camps in the country.

In February, the Austrian government said it will increase the pressure on rejected asylum seekers, introducing a draft law that would allow authorities to stop providing food and accommodation to those who refuse to leave the county.

The package of measures, yet to be approved by parliament, also includes amendments stipulating fines or prison sentences for asylum seekers who provide false information about their identity.

Thus, asylum seekers whose applications were rejected and who can safely return to their home countries but prefer to stay in Austria, would have to pay up to €15,000 (almost $15,900) or face up to an 18-month prison term.