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Austrian leaders rethink open door policy for refugees

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Refugees arriving in Vienna last year. File photo: Kim Traill
16:43 CET+01:00
The refugee crisis will be the focus of a summit on Wednesday when Austrian state governors and leaders of the federal government meet in Vienna.

Foreign and integration minister Sebastian Kurz has said the crisis has overwhelmed both the EU and Austria and that plans to increase border controls will be high on the summit's agenda.

A spokesman for Chancellor Werner Faymann said that the aim now is to "significantly reduce" the total number of refugees entering Austria.

Kurz has said that countries like Austria will have to act in their own best interests because no consensus has been reached at the EU level, with many Eastern and Central European countries rejecting calls for refugee quotas. He added that frontline countries such as Greece have failed to secure the EU's external borders.

The Catholic Church in Austria has criticised moves to limit the number of refugees entering the country, with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn saying that "we cannot solve all the problems, but we can help, and we can help more than we realise". He appealed to Austrians to show more understanding for the plight of the refugees.

Last year Austria became a major transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the European Union, with most travelling onwards to reach Germany or Sweden. However, 90,000 people stayed and applied for asylum in Austria.

Speaking in Brussels, Kurz said that Austria cannot be expected to take in a similar amount in 2016 and called for a change in policy. "I am firmly convinced that a policy of open doors and the belief that we could accommodate everyone in Europe was absolutely the wrong approach," he said, adding that many were now “rethinking” this. 

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Meanwhile, the president of the European Court of Justice Koen Lenaerts has said that imposing an upper limit on the number of refugees accepted by EU countries is not compatible with European law and a person's right to asylum under the Geneva Conventions.

 

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