Austria warns Italy to prepare for migration surge

Austria wants its southern neighbour Italy to prepare for a surge in migrants, Vienna's interior minister said Thursday, reiterating that she would close a key crossing between the two countries if numbers rise.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, a hard-line conservative, is set to visit her Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano on Friday in Rome.

Austria had previously announced that it was prepared to introduce strict border controls at the Brenner, an Alpine mountain pass along one of Europe's most important transport routes.

"Italy cannot count on the Brenner remaining open in case of uncontrolled migratory flows," Mikl-Leitner told Austrian Press Agency APA.

If frontier checks were implemented, Italy's road haulage association Conftrasporto said lorries would face a one-hour wait at the Brenner pass, generating economic losses worth 172 million euros per year, according to a simulation it has conducted.

The lobby group said 4.7 million trucks passed through the Italo-Austrian border in 2014. Conftrasporto President Paolo Ugge said the "very essence of European transport policy" was at risk.

Mikl-Leitner said she would seek information in Rome about what border control measures Italy plans to take in such an event, and whether reception centres in Southern Italy are working.

Now that the Balkan migration route is closed and the EU-Turkey refugee deal is in place, arrivals by sea to Italy could double to 300,000, compared to last year, the minister said.

The Italian coast guard said Thursday that more than 300 migrants were rescued off the coast of Sicily from a boat that had set sail from Egypt.

The group, which included Syrians, Eritreans and Libyans, had called for help Wednesday using a satellite phone and was located by reconnaissance aircraft, according to a statement.

The migrants were picked up by two coast guard vessels and later transferred to a third boat due to take them to Sicily later Thursday.

In the first three months of 2016, there has been an 85-per-cent year-on-year jump in arrivals at Italy's shores.

Last update: Thu, 07/04/2016 - 18:50

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