Austria's asylum cap nearly half reached
Austria is soon expected to hit the half way mark on the number of asylum seekers it is prepared to accept in 2016, after announcing an upper limit earlier this year.
In January around 6,000 people applied for asylum in Austria, and around 5,000 followed in February. In March 4,000 people have so far applied for refugee status, bringing the present total for 2016 to 15,000 applications.
The government has said it is prepared to accept 37,500 asylum seeker applications this year, compared with the 90,000 accepted last year.
Following the closure earlier this year of the western Balkan route for refugees and migrants trying to make their way to Europe, Austria has dramatically reduced the number of people crossing its borders on their way northern Europe.
The country also set a daily maximum of 80 asylum applications it was prepared to accept.
“Nevertheless, we have between 100 and 120 asylum seekers a day in Austria,” SPÖ defence minister Hans Peter Doskozil told the Kurier newspaper.
If the current numbers of refugees and migrants seeking refuge in Austria continues to remain at the same level, the ‘upper limit’ of 37,500 is likely to be reached by the summer time.
The government are now looking at options to try and prevent chaos and confusion at the border that might arise as a result of the limit being reached.
“It could mean that, to keep to the upper limit, people arrival at the state’s borders will be sent back to secure neighbouring countries, even if they apply for asylum,” said Interior Minister Johanna MIkl-Leitner, who is hoping to discuss such a prospect with neighbouring countries.
The minister has also said that if necessary all 13 official border-crossing points in Austria should be controlled by police and the military.
Speaking over the weekend, Mikl-Leitner says they may also introduce fences to Austria’s border with Hungary, as has already been done with Slovenia near the border town of Spielfeld.
“If it is necessary then we would build further fences just like in Spielfeld, build containers and put police and soldiers in the area," she said, adding that Austria needs to be “made into a fortress”.
The legality of capping the number of asylum seekers allowed to register in Austria has been questioned, however, by the head of the country’s constitutional court.
Austria’s Constitutional Court President Gerhart Holzinger described the policy last week as “unconstitutional and unlawful”.