Austria has threatened to send troops to the Balkans to stop asylum-seekers as countries across Europe turn on Angela Merkel over her “open-door” refugee policy.
Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, said yesterday (SAT) his country could not take any more migrants and was prepared to send soldiers to help close the Macedonian border.
The warning came as John Kerry, the US Secretary of State described the refugee crisis as a “near existential threat to Europe”.
“We are facing the gravest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II,” Mr Kerry said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.
“The United States understands the near existential nature of this threat to the politics and fabric of life in Europe.”
Mr Kerry praised Mrs Merkel for her “great courage in helping so many who need so much” with her decision to throw Germany’s borders open to asylum-seekers.
But a growing number of European countries are now determined to stop the flow of migrants into Europe along the so-called “Balkan Route” in defiance of the German chancellor.
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are reportedly to discuss how they can act together to close the route at a summit on Monday.
Even France has turned against Mrs Merkel, with Manuel Valls, the French prime minister warning yesterday that her refugee policy is “unsustainable in the long-term”.
“We have to say this clearly: Europe cannot take in all migrants from Syria, Iraq or Africa. It has to regain control over its borders, over its migration and asylum policies,” Mr Valls said in an interview with a group of German local newspapers.
Mrs Merkel is already facing falling approval ratings at home over her refugee policy, which has seen more than 1m asylum-seekers enter Germany.
It now appears she is facing concerted opposition from other European governments to her attempts to keep Europe’s borders open.
Austria was Mrs Merkel’s closest ally over the refugee issue last year, and threw open its doors like Germany.
But Mr Kurz warned yesterday that it will reach a government-imposed limit of the number of 37,500 asylum-seekers it is prepared to accept this year “within a matter of weeks”.
Austria was ready to send police or even troops to the Macedonian-Greek border to “stop the influx”, he told Germany’s Welt newspaper.
“Austria is ready to support the countries of the western Balkans and in particular Macedonia with police officers and technical equipment, and even with soldiers should they be needed,” he said.
Mrs Merkel has argued that closing Europe’s borders could cause the collapse of the Schengen agreement on free movement, and called for a quota system to share refugees among EU members.
But Mr Valls poured cold water on the proposal yesterday (SAT), telling the Munich security conference France was “not favourable” to the idea.
The German chancellor has been locked in negotiations to persuade Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do more to stop migrants crossing into Europe.
But six rounds of talks have produced since October have produced few results, and Mr Erdogan has done little to reassure European leaders.
“We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and put the refugees on buses,” he reportedly threatened Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, in November.
And he repeated the threat in a speech on Thursday, saying: “We told the Europeans ‘Sorry, we will open the doors and say goodbye to the migrants’.”
Several Eastern European countries are now reportedly determined to block any deal with Turkey.
“One of the main tasks of the coming days is to avert the German-Turkish pact,” Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, is said to have told a recent party meeting.
At the heart of the Eastern European objections is a plan for a quota of Syrian refugees to be transferred to EU countries from Turkey.