New Austrian chancellor downplays need for Brenner border controls

Austria's new chancellor said Wednesday that he does not see an immediate need to implement border controls at the Brenner frontier pass with Italy, following months of tensions with its southern neighbour over the plan.

"When it comes to border controls, we have to absolutely act cautiously," Christian Kern told journalists in Brussels during a visit to the European Commission, the European Union's executive.

"The number of refugees that actually come over this border [at the Brenner] can be counted on one hand, two hands," he added. "So at this moment I see no strain there, especially also because Italy is carrying out an exemplary management of the refugee flows."

Kern's remarks "are a rightful and beautiful acknowledgment" of Italian efforts, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano reacted in Rome through a statement.

"[Migratory] flows may vary, but we are ready to face them in the best way possible, bearing well in mind that cooperation between states is strategic ... because it is the only way to protect Europe from walls and divisions," he added.

The European Commission had joined Italy in expressing concerns over Austria's plans to introduce controls at the Brenner in case of a sudden jump in migrant flows.

There are fears that controls at this key transit point could further erode Europe's borderless Schengen zone, which has already been severely tested by the arrival last year of more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers on European shores.

In 2016, as of Sunday there have been just over 221,000 arrivals, including around 159,500 to Greece and about 55,500 to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Italy has become Europe's main entry point only since April.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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