Austria’s foreign minister called on the European Union on Thursday (4 February) to stop giving development aid to countries that refuse to take back nationals whose asylum claims were rejected.
“We in Europe need to finally start stepping up pressure if we want the repatriation system to work properly,” Sebastian Kurz told national broadcaster Oe1.
The conservative politician specifically mentioned Morocco, Tunisia and Pakistan, which he said were allocated a large chunk of the bloc’s annual 11-billion-euro ($12-billion) aid budget.
“At the moment, the EU gives 480 million euros to Morocco and 414 million to Tunisia every year, and yet these countries refuse to take back asylum seekers,” Kurz said.
Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel last month said EU aid should be withdrawn if a migrant’s country of origin fails to cooperate on repatriation.
Kurz said he wants the proposal to be discussed at the next EU summit on February 18 and 19.
The bloc is grappling with its worst migrant crisis since World War II, and the flow of people fleeing war and poverty shows no sign of abating despite wintry weather conditions along the so-called Balkan migrant route.
In 2015, over a million people reached Europe’s shores — nearly half of them Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war that has killed more than a quarter of a million people.
Austria, a country of nearly nine million people, last year received 90,000 asylum claims, one of the highest rates per capita in the EU.
In response to the influx, Vienna announced last month it would drastically cap the number of asylum seekers and deport at least 12,500 people in 2016.
On Thursday, Austria’s new Defence Minister, Hans Peter Doskozil, slammed the EU border agency for lacking in action and being “way too bureaucratic”.
“We need to discuss how to put into a place a European civilian and military mission” to protect the bloc’s external frontiers in Greece, Doskozil told Austrian newspaper Kurier.
Germany has criticised Austria’s decision to cap the number of refugees it will let in and tighten border controls, saying it ways was “not helpful” to German efforts to negotiate a European Union-wide solution to the migrant crisis and ensure Turkey’s support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to stem the influx by improving conditions at Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, giving Turkey aid in exchange for a crackdown on people smugglers responsible for the passage into Europe of many of the migrants from that country, and distributing refugees across the EU based on a quota system.
Merkel has expressed fear that shutting borders across Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel would menace the very existence of the euro common currency and EU single market.
Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, and her insistence that Germany can cope with last year’s influx, has strained local infrastructures and divided her conservatives.
“The fact that Germany sent refugees on its border with Austria back presented us with an even bigger challenge,” Kurz said. “In that sense this was a factor, if you will, that led to higher rather than lower figures.”
“Every state must decide for themselves,” Kurz added. “I respect the path Germany is going. But I also ask for understanding that we, with 90,000 refugees in the last year, have accepted more per capita than Germany. We are simply overwhelmed.”