VIENNA Germany is refusing more and more migrants entry at its southern border, sending a few hundred back to Austria every day since the beginning of the month, Austrian police said on Monday.
Attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve have prompted hundreds of complaints, with police suspicion resting on asylum seekers, putting pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door migrant policy.
Many of those rejected at the border have no valid documents or refuse to apply for asylum in Germany, arguing they want to travel further north to countries such as Sweden, a spokeswoman for the police in the province of Upper Austria said.
Austria is the last country on the way to Germany after the so-called Balkan route that hundreds of thousands have taken to flee violence and destruction in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
"Since the New Year, it's been about 200 a day, trending higher," the spokeswoman said of the migrants being sent back.
"German politicians seem to have decided to act with more firmness. The difficult thing (for us) is to explain if a migrants asks: Why can't I travel further now if my friend could still do it last week?"
A police spokeswoman in Munich confirmed Germany sent back up to 100 or so migrants a day depending on individual cases, but did not confirm any recent increase. "We apply the valid legal rules. They haven't changed," she said.
If such migrants do not apply for asylum in Austria, they face a fine for illegally crossing the border, the Austrian spokeswoman said. But once the fee is paid, they are free to try crossing back into Germany.
Most of the people sent back to Austria are not Syrians, who have a high chance of being granted asylum in Germany, but Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis or Moroccans, a spokesman for the Upper Austrian police said.
Apart from Germany, many favour northern European countries such as Sweden or the Netherlands as their final destination.
"We got no explanation why they're doing this," the spokesman said of German police sending migrants back.
For its part, Austria last month sent hundreds of migrants back to neighbouring Slovenia for lying about their nationality in an apparent attempt to improve their chances of being granted asylum.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna and Joern Poltz in Munich; Editing by Tom Heneghan)