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IMMIGRATION

‘Drastic’ cap on asylum numbers mooted

The ranks of EU countries closing their doors to migrants swelled further on Wednesday, with hotspot Austria announcing it would "drastically" cap the number of asylum-seekers this year.

'Drastic' cap on asylum numbers mooted
Photo: UNHCR/A. Webster

Chancellor Werner Faymann called the move a “wake-up call for the EU”, which he said had failed to protect the bloc's external borders and therefore forced individual members to take matters into their own hands.

Non-EU member Macedonia meanwhile said it had temporarily closed its border with Greece to migrants, blocking the path of hundreds trying to reach northern Europe.

The announcements reflect an ever-deepening rift countries opting to tackle the continent's worst migrant crisis since 1945 on a national level and those calling for a joint European solution.

Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Austria imposed entry restrictions for migrants earlier this month to reduce the influx.

Serbia and Croatia followed suit on Wednesday, saying they would only allow migrants to pass through the country if they were specifically seeking asylum in Austria or Germany.

Human rights groups have expressed fears that the restrictions' knock-on effect risked leaving migrants — including many children — stranded in icy temperatures on the western Balkans route.

Separately, German and Turkish police on Wednesday announced major coordinated raids against a criminal trafficking network that used unseaworthy ships to send more than 1,700 refugees to Europe.

The joint operation was a major strike against international organised crime fuelling the record migrant wave to Europe, police chiefs from both countries told a press conference at Potsdam outside Berlin.

'Running out of time'

Governments are worried that the onset of spring, and with it warmer temperatures, will herald a fresh spike in arrivals in the coming months.

“We are running out of time. We need a sharp reduction in the coming six to eight weeks,” warned Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

In 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants made the perilous journey by sea to Europe, according to the United Nations. Half of the new arrivals were Syrians fleeing civil war. Many also came from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the crisis shows no signs of abating, with latest figures revealing that Greece has already seen 21 times more migrants arrive on its shores so far this month than in all of January 2015.

Grasping for solutions, the European Commission is set to unveil a major overhaul of its refugee system, known as the “Dublin Regulation”, in March.

Current rules require a migrant's claim to be processed in the EU country they first arrive in.

But the EU's executive body intends to replace the regulation with a permanent quota system, which would require each bloc member to accept a set number of refugees based on its population size and other factors.

Several countries, including Hungary and Poland, remain fervently opposed to such a quota system.

Limits 'morally necessary'

Austria, which last year received one of the highest asylum claims per capita in the bloc, said Wednesday it could not cope with another huge influx.

It said it had decided to accept only 37,500 asylum claims in 2016 — less than half of the 90,000 applications received last year.

“We can't take in all asylum-seekers in Austria,” warned Faymann whose small nation of 8.1 million people has become a key transit country for migrants.

The sentiment was echoed by German President Joachim Gauck who said it was “morally and politically necessary” to limit Europe's refugee influx, and avoid ceding ground to populists and extremists.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been facing increasingly strong criticism even from within her own camp over her open-door policy.

Spurred on by Austria's announcement, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) on Wednesday reiterated its calls for a cap on migrant numbers.

“The Austrians did it. So we have to do it too,” said the party's secretary general Andreas Scheuer.

Leading children's charities this week warned that young refugees crossing through the Balkans were at serious risk from the bitterly cold weather and lack adequate shelter from the snowy conditions.

A five-year-old girl and a woman died of cold on Wednesday as they tried to reach Greece by sea, as the flow of migrants heading for Europe resumed following a lull due to high winds.

IMMIGRATION

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.

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