angela merkel.jpg
Photograph: EPA/BERND VON JUTRCZENKA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stung by several setbacks at the ballot box over her refugees policy, was due in Vienna Saturday for potentially tense talks with the leaders of countries along the Balkan migrant route, AFP reported.

The regional meeting is hosted by Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern and will be attended by prime ministers and representatives of ten countries and the European Union.

They include Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban who has been sharply critical of Merkel's "open-door" policy, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, a country now home to 60,000 stranded migrants, and Boyko Borisov, premier of newly under-pressure Bulgaria.

Orban called on Thursday for all illegal migrants to be deported from the European Union to "large refugee camps" on an island or in North Africa where their asylum claims could be processed.

EU President Donald Tusk and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos were also expected, along with representatives from hosts Austria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia, plus non-EU Serbia, Macedonia and Albania.

Last year hundreds of thousands of people, many fleeing the Syrian war, trekked up from Greece though the western Balkans northwards, particularly into Austria, Germany and Scandinavia.

Chancellor Kern of Austria, which is making preparations to seal its borders if needed, said that the aim of Saturday's gathering was to take stock of the situation in the Balkans.

More than 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year, the UN said on Tuesday, down from 520,000 from the first nine months of 2015. But deaths this year -- 3,500 so far -- could exceed last year's total.

In the latest disaster, more than 160 migrants drowned on Friday when their overcrowded boat sank off the Egyptian coast.

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