Austria ‘top country’ for asylum seekers

Austria 'top country' for asylum seekers
Tents set up for asylum seekers. Photo:
The Traiskirchen refugee centre in Lower Austria has broken a new record - it is now housing 4,300 asylum seekers, although it only has 2,300 beds. 480 people are sleeping in tents in the grounds of the centre, according to the Interior Ministry, but 2,000 people don’t have a bed to sleep in.

Peter Webinger, head of the asylum and migration group within the ministry, said that overall there is an “accommodation crisis” across Austria as the country struggles to deal with an influx of asylum seekers. More than 80,000 asylum applications are expected this year, according to experts – up from an earlier estimate of 70,000. This is three times the number of applications Austria received in 2014.

According to statistics from the interior ministry for the past month, Austria now has more asylum applications per capita than any other European country – having overtaken Germany and Sweden. In the first five months of this year it had 20,620 applications – an increase of 183 percent.

Sweden, in contrast, had 22,342 applications which is equal to a decrease of 6.3 percent. Asylum seekers are reportedly starting to shun Sweden because of its long waiting times and cumbersome bureaucracy.

On paper, Hungary has more asylum applications registered per capita than Austria but many refugees are then sent on to another country – the majority to neighbouring Austria.

Germany still continues to have the largest overall number of asylum applications – with around 179,000 refugees having applied for asylum so far this year.

Austria's interior ministry has called the situation an “asylum emergency”, with Webinger saying that only ten out of 28 EU member states are taking 92 percent of all refugees to Europe. He pointed out that Portugal has only taken 455 asylum applications this year, and Slovakia only 300.

The cost of providing basic care for asylum seekers in Austria has also risen, with the interior ministry estimating that this year the amount will be €380 million (double the amount paid in 2013).

Christoph Pinter, the head of the Vienna office of the UNHCR, says that Austria is now one of the main target countries in the EU for asylum seekers arriving in Europe via Greece and travelling through the western Balkans. The largest groups of asylum seekers coming to Austria are Afghans and Syrians.

Austria is known to have a well-functioning and developed asylum system compared to other European countries but the increasing number of asylum applications are a challenge for the small country – particularly when it comes to finding suitable accommodation.