VIENNA — Austria has warned that the European Union's survival was at stake as it pressed Balkan states to reduce the influx of migrants while Greece threatened not to cooperate with future agreements on the crisis if the burden was not fairly shared among member states.
Further undermining the bloc's hopes to get a grip on the situation, Hungary meanwhile announced a referendum on Brussels' troubled scheme to share out migrants among the 28-nation group via mandatory quotas.
"We have to reduce the influx now. This is a question of survival for the EU," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said on Wednesday after talks in Vienna with countries on the well-trodden west Balkans route north from Greece.
Greece, a main entry point for migrants and where thousands of Afghans have been held up at the border with Macedonia, angrily protested at being excluded from the ministerial meeting, underscoring the deep rifts within the EU.
"Greece will no longer agree to any deal if the burdens and responsibilities are not shared proportionally," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the Greek parliament, vowing "We will not allow our country to turn into a warehouse of souls."
A joint statement from the Vienna talks said that after hundreds of thousands of people trekked through the Balkans last year, many ending up in Germany, Sweden and also Austria, the inflow must be "massively reduced".
The talks come after figures showed more than 110,000 people arriving in Greece and Italy so far this year alone – 413 perishing in the attempt – following more than one million arrivals in 2015.
Amnesty International hit out at Europe's "shameful" response, saying most EU countries had "simply decided that the protection of their borders is more important than the protection of the rights of refugees."
Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban, announcing on Wednesday plans for the so-far undated referendum, said that Brussels had no right to "redraw Europe's cultural and religious identity". — AFP