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Austria has defended holding a refugee summit with West Balkan states without inviting Greece. Athens, however, has filed an official complaint with Austria, calling the meeting “non-friendly” and anti-European.
Migrants and refugees walk along a road to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni
Tensions are running high between Austria and Greece ahead of a conference in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss strategies to reduce migrant flows. Leaders from nine west Balkan states along the so-called Balkan route will attend the summit, but refugee-clogged Greece was not invited.
“These meetings (with the western Balkan states) take place within a format and with fixed participants,” interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told news agency AFP.
Wednesday’s conference, entitled “Managing Migration Together” will include foreign and interior ministers from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
The ministers are set to discuss issues like border management and how to combat human smugglers, as well as improving the flow of information concerning their country’s policies.
The Vienna conference will also attempt to create unified positions ahead of Thursday’s EU interior ministers meeting, an official close to the talks said to news agency DPA.
Afghan refugees stranded in Greece
Vienna’s decision outraged Athens, which responded by filing a diplomatic protest against the “unilateral and non-friendly” conference.
Greece’s foreign ministry said that its exclusion meant the summit was “an attempt to take decisions in Greece’s absence that directly affect Greece and Greek borders.”
Macedonia’s latest policy of denying entry to Afghans – who are one of the major groups of migrants- has already caused a large backup on Greece’s border.
The conference also undermines efforts to come up with a collected EU-wide decision concerning the refugee crisis criticized Greek officials.
“Decisions concerning refugee flows must be taken collectively without exclusions,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte in a telephone call on Tuesday.
Germany to introduce tougher asylum laws
Austria’s foreign minister also heavily criticized Germany’s refugee policy on Wednesday, calling it “contradictory.”
“We have to generally cut down on the flow of refugees,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday in an interview with the German newspaper “Bild.”
“Last year, Austria accepted per capita twice as many asylum applications as Germany. That won’t happen a second time,” he insisted.
Kurz also responded to criticism from Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere over Austria’s policy to limit itself to 80 asylum seekers per day, while waving through another 3,200 refugees who are mostly bound for Germany.
“The interior ministers will meet on Thursday at the EU Council and are in constant contact. Austria wants partnership and cooperation with Germany. Therefore, we expect that Germany will say whether or not it is prepared to take refugees and how many – or if it is no longer ready to accept them.”