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Ministers pay surprise visit to refugee camp

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Ministers pay surprise visit to refugee camp
Austrian President Heinz Fischer meeting refugees. Photo: Bundespräsident Dr. Heinz Fischer/Facebook
15:51 CEST+02:00
The severely overcrowded refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Lower Austria, received a surprise visit by Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Werner Faymann, Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner and Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner on Wednesday.

Last week Amnesty International said conditions at the camp are a "disgraceful" violation of human rights.

"We are continually informed about the situation in Traiskirchen, but it was important to me to be able to see the situation myself", Faymann told media after the visit - which was held behind closed doors, with no reporters present.

He added that conditions at the camp are “unacceptable” and appealed to Austria's states “to provide decent accommodation as soon as possible so that conditions like those at Traiskirchen are a thing of the past".

On Tuesday Austria's coalition government reached agreement on new powers for the federal government so that it can allocate asylum seekers to particular regions of the country, even if local councils are opposed.

"Every state that does not meet its quota, is responsible for that fact that refugees are sleeping on the street, in tents or in buses. The states must work closely with the federal government to get this situation under control,” Faymann said. He also called for a common EU policy on refugees and fair refugee quotas for all European countries.

President Fischer said that the visit to Traiskirchen had been his idea as he felt it was important for ministers to get a personal impression of what was going on. He said it was an “issue of human dignity” and that it was obvious that people living in the camp “don't have it easy”.

He thanked “everyone in Austria who has been prepared to help refugees”. He said it was “high time” that the constitution was changed to allow the federal government to allocate refugees to local authorities throughout Austria, but said it was a shame the new law only comes into force on October 1st, and not before.

Many people from Vienna and surrounding areas have been driving to Traiskirchen to personally drop off donations of tents, food, clothing and sanitary supplies for refugees - although there has been some criticism that many such donations are going to waste as they are not what is needed.

The Traiskirchen centre is currently run by a private for-profit business on contract from the Interior Ministry.

The Greens' leader Eva Glawischnig recently called for professional and experienced charities to be put in charge of running Traiskirchen instead, arguing that conditions would then be better.

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