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Slovenia Toughens Law to Prevent Another Influx of Migrants

FILE - A group of migrants moves through snow toward a train station to be transferred to Austria, near the border with Croatia, in Dobova, Slovenia, Jan. 3, 2016.

Slovenia's government approved amendments to its law on foreigners Thursday to enable police to seal the country's borders to illegal migrants for a limited period if needed.

The changes, expected to be ratified by parliament, are meant to prevent a repeat of a six-month-long flood of migrants across Slovenia that ended in March 2016, when several countries to its south closed the main Balkan migration route.

Around 500,000 illegal migrants crossed Slovenia, the smallest country along the migration corridor, on their way to desired destinations in wealthier west European countries.

Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar said Slovenia would not be able to endure another migrant flow of that kind, especially as its northern neighbor Austria and other west European states were closing their doors to migrants.

"The new legislation will be used only if migration would be endangering the public order and internal security of Slovenia," Znidar told a news conference.

She said the government also decided to establish a special Office for Migration to coordinate policy on migrants.

Amnesty International, in a statement, urged parliament to reject the legal changes as they "would deny refugees and asylum seekers the protections to which they are entitled under international and EU law."

Znidar said the number of asylum requests in Slovenia had risen fivefold in the past year. In the first 11 months of 2016 Slovenia received 1,170 requests, of which 148 were approved, while about 230 requests were still being processed.