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IMMIGRATION

Chaos as migration system ‘close to collapse’

Greece furiously recalled its ambassador from Austria and Brussels warned the bloc's migration system could collapse within ten days as Europe's refugee crisis neared breaking point on Thursday.

Chaos as migration system 'close to collapse'
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. Photo: European Commission

Further chaos loomed as a French court approved the partial evacuation of the “Jungle” migrant camp near the port of Calais on the coast, a move that Belgium fears will send Britain-bound migrants coming its way.

Attempts by EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels to agree a unified response to the biggest migration crisis in the bloc's history frayed over the fact that many states are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

The talks descended into acrimony over Austria's decision to freeze Greece out of a meeting earlier this week with Balkan states, at which they agreed steps that would effectively trap many asylum seekers on Greek territory.

Debt-stricken Greece — the main landing point for most migrants arriving in Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries — faces huge pressure to stop “waving through” migrants to the rest of the EU.

The Greek foreign ministry hit out at what it called “19th-century” attitudes and said it was recalling its envoy from Vienna to “safeguard friendly relations between the states and peoples of Greece and Austria”.

'Warehouse of souls'

Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas meanwhile said his country “will not accept becoming Europe's Lebanon, a warehouse of souls” — referring to the huge number of Syrian refugees Lebanon has taken since 2011.

The migration crisis shows no signs of abating with 100,000 arriving in Europe so far this year on top of one million in 2015, with most of them coming via Turkey across the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the bloc's migration system could crumble if the number of migrants does not fall by the time EU leaders hold a crucial summit with Turkey in Brussels on March 7.

Europe's passport-free Schengen zone has been cracking under the pressure of several countries reintroducing border controls, while the EU system stipulating that refugees must claim asylum in their country of arrival is increasingly ignored.

“In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down,” Avramopoulos said.

“The possibility of a humanitarian crisis is very real and very near.”

Avramopoulos urged EU states to avoid “unilateral actions”, such as recent caps on asylum seeker numbers brought in by Austria, which have left thousands of refugees stranded between member states.

But Austria and the Balkan states insist they need to act because the EU's plans are not working and Greece is not doing enough.

“If it is really the case that the Greek external border cannot be protected, can it be still a Schengen external border?” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said.

Calais 'jungle' part-closed

In France, a court gave the green light to plans to evacuate hundreds of migrants from the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais, a process the mayor said would take place over the next three weeks.

Many migrants want to stay near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, the gateway to their ultimate goal of Britain, and Calais town authorities said that no-one will be evacuated from the “Jungle” by force.

Belgium has decided to impose checks at the border with France to stop people coming from the Calais camp, a decision that French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Thursday branded “strange”.

Meanwhile in northern Greece, hundreds of migrants and refugees left an accommodation camp to walk to the distant border with Macedonia, days after Skopje slashed the number of people it allows through each day.

“They are mainly youths… they do not want to wait for buses to pick them up… neither the army nor the police can stop them because there is the risk of (violence),” Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris said.

The European Commission said separately it failed to “understand” Hungary's decision to hold a referendum on mandatory quotas for refugees that the bloc agreed last year.

So far only 598 people have been relocated from frontline states Greece and Italy, out of a planned 160,000.

In a positive development, NATO on Thursday managed to overcome sharp differences between long-time rivals Greece and Turkey to finalise an unprecedented naval mission to tackle migrant smugglers in the Aegean.

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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