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EU slams Austria over plans to limit asylum claims

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EU slams Austria over plans to limit asylum claims

Johanna Mikl-Leitner

(BRUSSELS) - The EU told Austria Thursday to reconsider its plans to limit asylum claims which it warned would be "plainly incompatible" with European Union laws.

The clash came as European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday piled pressure on Turkey to curb the flow of migrants to Europe under a deal signed last year.

European migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos complained in a letter to Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner after she said Wednesday the country would cap the daily number of asylum claims at 80.

"Such a policy would be plainly incompatible with Austria's obligations under European and international law," Avramopoulos said in a copy of the letter obtained by AFP.

Avramopoulos cited the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

"Austria has a legal obligation to accept any asylum application that is made on its territory or at its border," the letter said. "I would urge you to reconsider the unilateral measures which you are proposing."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also criticised the proposal.

"As far as Austria is concerned I have to say I don't like this decision, we are questioning whether it is within European law, and we will have a friendly discussion," Juncker told a news conference.

- 'Reaching breaking point' -

Mikl-Leitner said her government had no choice but to introduce the measures taking effect from Friday because Austria is among the EU countries most under strain from the unprecedented migrant influx and is "reaching breaking point."

The move came a day after Vienna said it would step up controls at existing checkpoints along its southern frontier with Italy, Slovenia and Hungary to curb the influx of migrants and refugees trekking up through the Balkans.

The daily limit on asylum claims is broadly in line with Austria's announcement last month that it would only take in 37,500 asylum-seekers this year -- sharply down from the 90,000 it accepted in 2015.

Since January, the country of nearly nine million has already received 11,000 asylum claims, or around 250 a day.

Separately the police chiefs of Austria and four other countries on the migrant route through southeast Europe announced an agreement Thursday for a joint refugee registration point at the Greek-Macedonian border.

Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria will jointly profile and register migrants from war-torn countries and then organise their "controlled transport" through to Austria, Croatia's police director Vlado Dominic said.

Sweden said it plans to house nearly 1,800 migrants on a luxury cruise ship, as it struggles to cope with its share of the huge migrant influx into Europe.

- Pressure on Turkey --

In Brussels, the EU added to pressure on Ankara, as EU officials say thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey after more than one million made the perilous journey last year in the continent's worst such crisis since World War II.

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose government holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said he hoped NATO's announcement last week that it would start naval patrols in the Aegean Sea could make a difference.

The latest draft summit conclusions, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, calls for "the full and speedy implementation" of the plan agreed by the EU and Turkey in November last year despite some progress by Ankara.

Central European countries said Wednesday they would push for further border restrictions in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone unless they see results from Turkey cutting from the present number of around 1,500 to 2,000 a day.

Under the action plan, the EU will give Turkey three billion euros to aid refugees on its territory and Turkey will crack down on people smugglers and cooperate with the EU on the return of people who do not qualify as refugees.

Turkey will meanwhile get its wish for the acceleration of its bid for membership of the EU, with only one of 35 so-called "chapters" in the accession process completed in a decade of stop-start talks.


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