Protesters in the Italian village of Brenner on the Italian-Austrian border objected to new barriers after Austria's defense minister said his country will deploy soldiers to stop asylum seekers arriving from Italy. (Kerstin Joensson/AP)

European nations must step up humanitarian aid to countries in the Middle East hosting displaced persons so more people can stay there safely, and Europe should open its doors primarily to the most vulnerable asylum seekers, Austria’s foreign minister said Monday.

“Our goal is that we decide who can come to Europe, and we decide who we help, and that we don’t let the smugglers decide,” Sebastian Kurz said in an interview before he met with Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Kurz said many seeking safe haven in Europe are not asylum seekers from the Syrian war but economic migrants from other countries. Most want to resettle in three particular countries, he said.

“I understand they are looking for a better life in Austria, Germany and Sweden,” Kurz said. “But it’s our job as politicians to create systems that can work. The concept of no borders is not going to work.”

Austria warmly welcomed the first asylum seekers who arrived last year but took a stricter stance when it became clear, Kurz said, that “things were out of control.” Vienna imposed a cap this year and recently deployed troops to its Alpine border with Italy to block the migrant flow.

Like many European diplomats, Kurz used comparative math to underscore the burden that Austria, with 8.5 million people, faced when it took in 90,000 refugees last year, more than double this year’s cap of 37,500.

“It would be like the United States getting 3.4 million new asylum seekers in one year alone,” he said. “Austria has done much more than most other countries in the world.”

President Obama ordered the State Department to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Kurz said even more should be admitted.

Kurz credited new border controls and a deal to send newly arrived asylum seekers back to Turkey with stemming the tide this year. He said 20 displaced persons can be supported in Turkey for what it costs to support one refu­gee in Austria.

Women, children, the elderly and the sick should be given priority for resettlement, Kurz said, not able-bodied young men.

“If we really want to help the people in Syria, we should invest more in humanitarian aid and we should work with resettlement programs to get those who really are in need to come to Europe,” he said.

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