March 6, 2016 / 8:37 AM / a year ago

Austrian leader wants Germany to cap refugees: paper

A migrant boy waits to cross the border from Slovenia into Spielfeld in Austria, February 16, 2016.Leonhard Foeger

ZURICH (Reuters) - Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has urged Germany to set a clear limit on the number of asylum seekers it will accept to help stem a mass influx of refugees that is severely testing European cohesion.

The comments by the Social Democrat to the Kurier newspaper threaten to make even more complicated an emergency EU summit with Turkey on Monday on handling the worst refugee crisis in generations.

Austria - the last stop before Germany, the top destination for migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond - has already come under fire from the European Commission and human rights groups for capping its own intake of refugees.

"Germany too must give a number for the refugees it is prepared to take from the Syria and Turkey region. Germany must finally create clarity or else refugees will continue to head off in the direction of Germany," Faymann was quoted as saying.

"If you take the Austrian guidelines, Germany could give its quota at around 400,000. As long as Germany does not say that, it is clear what will happen. The refugees will continue to believe that they will be waved through."

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann addresses a news conference after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Austria, February 16, 2016.Heinz-Peter Bader

In Berlin, a government spokesman declined to comment directly on Faymann, but referred to previous statements from Chancellor Angela Merkel in which she repeatedly rejected the introduction of such a national cap.

In a newspaper interview, Merkel defended her decision to keep Germany's borders open and reaffirmed her push for a joint European solution, including strengthening the continent's external borders and cooperation with Turkey to stop refugees from traveling on to Europe.

Austria, a country of 8.5 million people, got 90,000 asylum requests last year and has curtailed the number this year while imposing daily limits on the numbers it processes.

Faymann said Monday's summit was set to decide three things: improving cooperation with Turkey to fight human smugglers and return rejected asylum seekers, ending a policy of waving through refugees, and agreeing on a system for EU members to absorb asylum seekers with the help of the U.N. refugee agency.

In a separate newspaper interview, Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said Austria did not want to take part in any quota system for distributing refugees among European countries because it had done enough on its own.

"We are taking the lion's share and taking in 37,500 asylum seekers this year alone. Now the others are called upon. Why should Austria take refugees from Greece?" Doskozil told the Oesterreich newspaper.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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