VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann cast doubt on the workability of the so-called migrant hotspots European leaders plan to create by the end of next month in Greece and Italy to help manage large numbers of refugees.
Of the more than half a million refugees and migrants to arrive in Europe across the Mediterranean this year, almost 400,000 have come through Greece and 131,000 through Italy, making them frontline states in the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.
An EU plan agreed last month foresees setting up migrant hotspots in these and other border countries to screen the incoming migrants more carefully.
“I am only optimistic (for the hotspots to work) even by the end of the year if there is central coordination, significantly more means, significantly more staff,” Faymann told Austrian ORF radio after visiting the Greek island of Lesbos (pictured above).
The EU’s plan was aimed in part at helping the bloc’s border countries deal with the surge by relocating asylum seekers to non-border countries.
Italy has agreed to open six hotspots and the European Commission said Greece will model its own hotspot network on Italy.
“To believe that once you make a decision that this is already reality, you just have to be there to see that of course a lot of things are lacking,” Faymann said.
After his visit to Lesbos with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras earlier this week, Faymann, who has called for binding quotas for the distributions of migrants across Europe, said he saw that in some centres fingerprints were taken on paper because there were no computers available.
“Significantly more must happen than is currently being prepared to achieve border security with the possibility of guaranteeing the right to asylum through a door called ‘distribution centre’,” Faymann said.
Austria, a nation of around 8.5 million people, has become the main thoroughfare for migrants travelling to Europe via Greece and the Balkans. In September alone, 200,000 migrants crossed into Austria from Hungary.
Faymann also said the European Union needed to negotiate common agreements for sending migrants back to countries such as Pakistan. “It would be best if single countries don’t negotiate this.”
(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Hugh Lawson)