Austria Claims Much of the Credit for EU Migrant Deal

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 11:41 AM

Presently the inflow has been dramatically crimped and Austria is claiming much of the credit. The tiny country at the heart of Europe traditionally is associated with schnitzel, Mozart and "The Sound of Music." More recently, it's also gained a reputation for a hard-nosed migration stance that's shaped Europe'south response to the biggest migrant arrivals since World War II.

Just weeks ago, thousands of migrants a day were streaming into northern Europe. Presently the inflow has been dramatically crimped and Austria is claiming much of the credit.

The tiny country at the heart of Europe traditionally is associated with schnitzel, Mozart and "The Sound of Music." More recently, it's also gained a reputation for a hard-nosed migration stance that's shaped Europe'south response to the biggest migrant arrivals since World War II.

Austria'south decision to close down its border — the main transit route into the heart of Europe for most refugees — initially caused consternation among many in Europe. But senior Austrian politicians assert the decision helped forge latest month'south agreement between the EU and Turkey that commits Ankara to start taking back migrants who pay smugglers to create risky sea crossings to the Greek islands.

"I believe that we played a significant role in ... finding a solution for the migration crisis," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told The Associated Press ahead of the first expected migrant returns from Greece to Turkey on Monday.

The premise behind the deal is that Europe will send back to Turkey anyone from any country who doesn't qualify for asylum or has tried to evade a rigorous asylum application process. For every person sent back, EU countries would get in one person confirmed to have made a legitimate asylum request.

Austria — and other eastern European nations — argue that their decision to near their borders leading from Greece through the Balkans and into prosperous northern Europe enabled the deal with Turkey to happen by creating new facts on the ground.

Those facts comprise having over 50.000 migrants pile up in Greece, as borders further N closed and boatloads of people still poured across its vast Aegean Sea border daily from Turkey.

The Austrian decision meant there would be number more "waving through" of migrants as they sought to obtain to Austria, Sweden or Germany, which alone accepted more than one million refugees latest year. As the Balkan route close down, the sufferings of migrants trapped in makeshift camps in northern Greece, notably around the border village of Idomeni, laid bare the scale of the human misery and increased pressure within the EU to act.

"The right measures were taken on the European level (only) after Austria'south outcry," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters.

Others look a more nuanced picture.

Anton Pelinka, a politics Prof at Eotvoes Lorant Univ in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, says it was Hungary that played a large role in the EU'south new approach. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was arguably the first to reject German-led attempts to authorize the migrants free passage through Europe with his migrant quotas and his razor-wire border fences.

"Hungary was in fact the initiator of what then consequently was keep into force in the Balkans," he said.

Still, Austria'south decision to impose daily caps on those seeking asylum at its southeastern border as of Feb. nineteen sent ripples of alarm through countries along the migrant route, from Slovenia to Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.

Austrian and Balkan route police chiefs on Feb. eighteen called for the migrant flow "to be reduced to the greatest possible extent." A day later, Austria imposed caps both on the no of asylum seekers it'd accept daily and overall for the whole year. Five days later on Feb. twenty-four, foreign and interior ministers from Austria and its southern neighbors made it formal — tightening border controls and announcing that a complete shutdown of the route was looming.

The move was initially met by harsh criticism. The EU said Austria'south clampdown on asylum seekers contravened international law. Greece recalled its ambassador to Vienna and U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the border restrictions "aren't in line with international law or with common human decency."

But the mood has changed.

While declining to comment on Austria'south role in the migrant debate, EU migration spokeswoman Tove Ernst echoed the speech coming out of Vienna, saying all members "should commit to ending the 'wave-through' approach to those who indicate an interest in applying for asylum elsewhere."

The move to close the Balkans route was drastic — but it worked. Figures provided Friday to the AP indicate the no of new refugee arrivals registered by German police dropped from an average of over 2.000 daily at the start of the year to several hundred from the center of February. Currently, about one hundred people are being recorded each day.

Kurz suggested other EU nations had just been waiting for an opening to fall in line.

"The fact that our path was the right one revealed itself after only a few weeks," he said, asserting that all twenty-eight EU nations endorsed an finish to the unfettered migration shortly after Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia also close their borders.

"I can stand criticism from here and there, particularly when it comes from those who after a few weeks consent to what we suggested," he said.

———

Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed.

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