Austria backs calls for joint EU response to migrant crisis

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 18, 2014 9:00 AM

ROME (Reuters) - The incoming European Commission must step up efforts with EU governments to develop a coordinated approach to refugee and asylum policy, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Thursday.

Faymann has faced growing pressure from local politicians in Austrian border regions to step up frontier controls to handle a growing number of refugees arriving through Italy, one of its neighbors to the south.

"The whole question of asylum and refugees is one which can ultimately only be solved at European level," Faymann told reporters after a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini in Rome.

"No country can be left on its own, neither with initial reception, which is affecting Italy in particular at the moment, nor with regards to settlement of refugees," he said.

"This is a request to the newly elected European Commission and of course for European heads of government to push for a stronger solution," the Social Democrat said.

His comments came only days after the International Organisation for Migration reported that almost 3,000 migrants had drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean so far this year, including as many as 700 in the past week.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year in Italy, which set up a naval task force to deal with the emergency after hundreds of people drowned in two separate incidents last year.

Rome has repeatedly called for more help from its European partners to handle the emergency. Last month the EU Commission said border control agency Frontex would reinforce Italy's "Mare Nostrum" task force.

"Without this European solution, the refugee question will never be settled satisfactorily, either in human or political terms," Faymann said.

Around 17,500 people applied for asylum in Austria last year, mostly from Russia, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan, according to government statistics. That put Austria in seventh place in the EU and fourth when measured by population size.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie)