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Austria to tighten asylum, Brenner Pass controls

Austria plans to further tighten its asylum policy from May. After the recent Balkans route shut-down, Vienna believes refugees will soon focus on its Brenner alpine pass. Applications are to be processed within hours.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Wednesday Austria would only approve asylum applications from refugees "we have to" accept, such as persons whose safety was threatened in a neighboring transit country.

Approval was also likely for refugees who already had close family members living in Austria, she added, referring to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on protection of family life.

Parliamentary clearance for the new legal framework was expected by May, she said.

Johanna Mikl-Leitner Österreich Gespräch Presse

Entry will be limited further, says Mikl-Leitner

Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said migrants would only be able to file applications at border crossings and no longer inside Austria.

The ministers were reacting to a legal appraisal sought by the government in which advisors said Austria's upper limit of 37,500 arrivals a year diverged from European norms and still required the upholding of minimum standards on handling asylum-seekers.

From mid-May, requests for asylum would still be assessed individually but within hours, Doskozil and Mikl-Leitner said, adding that those not accepted would be turned away immediately.

In January, Austria defied other EU states by setting its limit this year at 37,500 - less than half of last year's 90,000.

Mikl-Leitner said Austria had received 14,000 claims so far in 2016.

No let-up, says Mikl-Leitner

"There are no grounds to give the all-clear," she said, referring to refugees stuck in Greece and forecasts that hundreds of thousands of migrants could soon resort to transits through Italy to reach western European nations such as Germany.

Italy said its coast guard and navy rescued 1,361 migrants from boats and rubber dinghies in the southern Mediterranean on Wednesday as migrant flows from northern Africa picked up.

Tailbacks at Brenner?

In mid-March, Tirol's governor Günther Platter told Austrian ORF public radio that Europe's transport industry should expect delays if controls were re-introduced at the Brenner - one of Europe's major road links - from mid-April.

"In the end, if there are controls, there will be traffic jams," Platter said, referring to the Brenner which lies on his state's segment of the Austrian-Italian alpine border.

In recent months, migrants have been crossing the Brenner Pass only in small numbers.

Südtirol Brennerpass Flüchtlinge

Via Italy refugees also reach the Brenner Pass

Doskozil said he expected controls on the Brenner similar to those already in place at Austria's Spielfeld border crossing with Slovenia.

Tirol racing to find accommodation

Last week, the Tiroler Tageszeitung (TT) newspaper reported that among Tirol's 279 local authorities, 150 had not yet offered accommodation for refugees.

Tirol had provided accommodation for 6,300 refugees so far, but its state-wide TSD social welfare service was looking urgently for lodgings for a further 1,000, said the TT.

Tirol, with its regional capital Innsbruck, is Austria's third largest federal state, and has a population of 739,000.

More than one million refugees entered Europe last year, most of them making hazardous boat crossings from Turkey into Greece via Aegean Sea islands.

ipj/rc (AP, dpa)

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