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Austria calls on EU to get Egypt to block flow of refugees

AUSTRIA used the EU Salzburg summit today to call on the bloc to open up talks with Egypt on preventing refugees from reaching European shores.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who heads a coalition government of his conservative People’s Party with the far-right Freedom Party, said Egypt had “proven that it can be efficient.

“Since 2016, it has prevented ships sailing from Egypt to Europe or, when they have sailed, it has taken them back.”

Egyptian autocrat Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the army seizure of power from president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, held talks with Mr Kurz — Austria holds the rotating EU presidency — and European Council president Donald Tusk at the weekend.

EU chiefs are exploring a deal similar to that struck with Turkey, which agreed to take back refugees, mostly from Syria, in return for €6 billion (£5.3bn) in aid, supposedly towards the cost of their care.

The EU has been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International as the Turkey deal violates international obligations towards asylum-seekers.

Turkey has also repeatedly threatened to pull out of the deal because it says the EU has not held up its side of the bargain. Ankara and Brussels differ on how much money Turkey has actually received so far, while a promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens was not followed up.

Italy’s new coalition government has taken a harsh stance against allowing asylum-seekers in, refusing to allow ships that have rescued them from people traffickers’ boats in the Mediterranean to dock in Italian ports.

The EU is now promoting the idea of “disembarkation platforms” where refugees rescued in the Mediterranean could be returned to African bases and have their asylum applications processed there.

No African country has expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

Libya, which has been in a permanent state of war since Nato overthrew Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, and Algeria, which is accused of dumping hundreds of refugees to die in the Sahara desert, are seen as problematic partners for such a scheme, leaving Egypt one of the few potential hosts.

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