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Austria asks EU for 600 million euros to cover refugee costs

Vienna said it wanted money from the EU after accepting far more asylum seekers than it had forecast in its 2015 budget. The request came as both Hungary and Austria step up rhetoric against Greece regarding refugees.

Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling sent a request to the European Commission for 600 million euros ($670 million) to cover unbudgeted costs associated with housing and caring for asylum seekers, an Austrian Finance Ministry spokesperson said on Saturday.

Schelling also used the letter to voice criticism of the EU executive body's approach to the influx of migrants to Europe, many of whom are fleeing war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"In times of the financial crisis, the European Commission has mostly acted as the agent of the member states," Schelling said in a letter addressed to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, published by the Austrian daily "Kurier."

"Concerning the migration crisis, it is high time the Commission returned to its normal function as an independent institution representing the general community interest and start acting as such," Schelling added.

Accusing Greece, once again

The Austrian finance minister's request comes as both Austria and Hungary have stepped up rhetoric against Greece regarding the influx of migrants.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the EU should look to other countries to prevent people from entering the 28-nation bloc.

"If Greece is not willing or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another line of defense, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria," Szijjarto said on Saturday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Athens underestimated the severity of the refugee crisis.

"I still don't have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the situation is," he said.

He added that alternatives would have to be evaluated if Greece were to prove unable to control the number of refugees leaving the country for other EU nations.

"I say this very clearly, if we do not manage to control the situation ... our only option will be to cooperate with Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia," Kurz said.

More than 800,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, stretching Athens' capacity to register those arriving from Turkey via the Aegean Sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in February that more than 300 people had died, at least a third of them children, attempting to reach Greece from Turkey in January 2016.

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'Member states have failed'

In January, Juncker placed blame for Europe's inadequate response to the refugee crisis on EU member states.

"It's not the Commission that has not delivered," Juncker said during a press conference.

"A number of member states have failed to fully deliver on what we need to do and what needs to be done," he added in an apparent reference to the near-failure of a refugee resettlement system that would allocate asylum seekers in front line countries, such as Greece and Italy, to other member states.

Several eastern European member states, including Hungary, were critical of the resettlement plan.

ls/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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