Innsbruck, Austria – Several EU interior ministers and officials reacted warily to Austria’s proposal for restricting asylum rights as they gathered for an informal meeting in the Austrian town of Innsbruck on Thursday.
Ministers made clear that their priorities are to secure the external EU borders, fight people smugglers in the Mediterranean and manage the return of rejected migrants.
European concern of the Austrian proposal
The gathering in Innsbruck was the first follow-up meeting after EU leaders reached a migration deal in late June that includes the idea of disembarkation centres in regions such as North Africa for migrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean, as well as setting up centres on European soil.
“Now it is up to the ministers and to all of us to deliver,” the EU’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters.
Earlier this week, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl made headlines when he proposed that refugees should not be allowed to file asylum claims in the EU, in EU embassies, or in the planned offshore disembarkation centres.
Instead, the EU could choose the most vulnerable refugees in refugee camps near crisis regions, said the far-right minister, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
“No presidency has the right to suspend the Geneva Convention” on refugee protection, Luxembourg’s Foreign and Immigration Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Ministers from Portugal and Greece, as well as Commissioner Avramopoulos, echoed Asselborn’s remarks and stressed that European values include giving shelter to persecuted people.
Even Kickl’s hardline allies in Europe, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini, remained silent on Vienna’s ideas after they met for trilateral talks on Thursday morning.
The three ministers said afterwards that Germany, Italy and Austria will cooperate more closely to bring “order” to the European Union’s current migration situation, and to control the bloc’s borders.
Control of the borders of the European Union
“If we reduce departures, landings, deaths and arrivals, there will be no problem at the internal borders of the [European] Union,” Salvini said, referring to the issue of migrants who arrive in countries such as Italy and travel on to wealthier countries such as Germany.
Italy has started denying humanitarian migrant rescue ships entry to its ports, and Salvini wants to extend this blockade to ships that are part of formal EU rescue operations.
“We agreed that we want to bring order to this topic, as disorder has prevailed for far too long,” Seehofer said.
He is trying to secure deals with Italy and Greece that would allow Germany to send back migrants if they initially claimed asylum in these countries. However, Salvini made clear on Wednesday that such discussions could only start after the EU has taken action to prevent new arrivals.