Vienna watchful over emergence of eastern Balkans refugee route

Johanna Mikl-Leitner [VolksparteiNO/Flickr]

In Austria, the Turkish refugee deal has been met with scepticism. At the same time, Vienna is on the lookout for other routes that may be used by refugees to enter the EU. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The EU-Turkey agreement was given a mixed reception by the Austrian government. On the one hand, there is little doubt as to the necessity of the Turkey deal, which is a response to the uncertain situation in the Balkans. But on the other hand, there is considerable scepticism in Werner Faymann’s government, especially when it comes to how the agreement should actually be implemented.

Vienna also has concerns about the deal in regard to human rights. In a TV interview, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner called upon the EU to closely monitor the repatriation of refugees from Greece to Turkey and check if the Turkish authorities respect the human rights of refugees. Regarding Turkish visa exemption, she demanded a termination clause that would be activated if Ankara does not stick to the agreement.

Despite the agreement last week, security and migration experts expect refugees to look for alternative routes.

Due to the ongoing blockade of the West Balkan route, more visible activity in the eastern Balkans has been observed, including increased arrests and more movement by people traffickers.

Mikl-Leitner mentioned that a potential 1.1 million refugees could now instead set their sights on using Bulgaria as a transit point to reach Central Europe. As a result, there is already an ongoing discussion about measures that would also shut down the eastern Balkans route.

Bulgaria fears becoming alternative route for refugees

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has asked that the plan to return migrants arriving in Greece to Turkey, also applies to his country, the press in Sofia reports ahead of the EU summit beginning today (17 March).

“Fortress Europe”

In addition, Mikl-Leitner said that the proportion of Syrian Civil War refugees making up the influx of people is dropping, adding that among the refugees there are more and more people from Asian and African countries that are trying to enter Europe for financial gain. Therefore, she continued, it has unfortunately become necessary to establish a so-called “Fortress Europe.”

In Austria, around 100 asylum applications are being made per day. But, because of the Balkan blockade, applications are no longer being made and rejected at the borders, rather the process is being carried out in the interior of the country. If this trend continues, the agreed upon “ceiling” of 37,500 asylum applications could be reached by the autumn.

In another recent appearance on television, Mikl-Leitner even went as far to suggest that the country could even establish a daily limit on refugees.

Austrian cap on asylum seekers infuriates Commission

Austria enraged the European Commission yesterday (18 February) by insisting on capping the number of refugees it takes in. But Chancellor Werner Faymann said he also heard “a lot of understanding” during the summit dinner.

Austria announced on Tuesday (16 February) it …

Furthermore, there is a backlog of about 60,000 applications whose processing time is estimated to be about seven months. On average, only every other asylum application gets rubber-stamped by the Austrian authorities.

The repatriation of rejected asylum seekers has proven to be quite difficult, because there is still a lack of bilateral agreements between Vienna and the main countries of origin.

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