ITALY AUSTRIA BRENNER BORDER CLASHES, migrants, police.jpg
Photograph: EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

The interior ministers of Italy and Austria were due to meet at the Brenner pass on Friday amid rising tensions over Vienna's plans to tighten controls at the border point and a fresh influx of African refugees on Italian shores.

Austria wants to limit the number of migrants and refugees crossing from Italy, but Rome says such moves violate European Union rules and are a misguided "propaganda" attempt by the Austrian government to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU's commissioner for migration affairs, warned the Austrian government in a letter last week against adopting anything beyond "temporary" border control measures, a spokeswoman in Brussels said.

As Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano announced the Brenner talks with his Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Sobotka on Thursday, the Italian coast guard reported the rescue of 801 migrants from two boats off the coast of Sicily.

Some 342 of the rescued migrants disembarked in the Sicilian port of Augusta, while the other rescued migrants were due to be taken to other locations. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) wrote on Twitter that scarcely any Syrians were among those who arrived in Augusta, contradicting earlier reports from other sources.

Flavio Di Giacomo, an IOM spokesman in Rome, told dpa there was "only one" Syrian in the group, while the rest were Egyptians, Somalis and Sudanese. He added that according to official Italian data, only 26 Syrians had made it to Italy as of April 30.

Large-scale Syrian refugee landings would have confirmed fears that following the closure of the so-called Balkan route, connecting Turkey to Germany and further north, Italy had become a new entry point for refugees from the Middle East and beyond.

According to the IOM, 31,219 migrants have landed in Italy in the year to date, including 2,513 in the May 4-11 period. The most common nationalities among those who arrived in the last month were Nigerians, Gambians, Senegalese, Guineans and Ivorians.

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