The proposal from Diakonie's Michael Chalupka would involve embassies issuing a visa for humanitarian reasons, which would allow people to come to Austria where they can then seek asylum.
The idea follows the deaths of thousands of people – both refugees and economic migrants – who drowned while being smuggled across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
“In this way Austria could make it possible for the most vulnerable refugees to arrive to Europe without danger and not have to get into the dangerous boats,” Chalupka said, speaking Sunday morning on the ORF programme Pressestunde.
Chalupka, who is calling for support from Austria's Interior and Foreign Ministries, said that a humanitarian visa project could be “implemented quickly”. He added that Diakonie is already working on a pilot project with an Italian sister organisation to help open up a humanitarian corridor from North Africa to Europe.
The pilot project involves 'humanitarian correspondents' in North African countries recommending vulnerable refugees to embassies to receive visas. According to Chalupka, they programme could initially save 200 lives without needing to install additional camps in North Africa or have long-term processes to screen asylum seekers on African soil.
The announcement comes amid growing calls for a quota system that would distribute refugees more equitably around the European Union.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has said he supports introducing EU regulation that would allocate a refugee quota to each of the EU states and the idea is also backed by Germany, which fields about a third of the 626,000 asylum claims in Europe.
The suggestion of humanitarian visas was supported by Austria's Green party but received criticism from the Freedom Party who argued that if someone has to flee their country they can also go to neighbouring provinces or countries. “It does not have to be Europe or Austria,” said the party's Secretary Herbert Kickl.