Austria says asylum numbers halved but still too high

Austria says asylum numbers halved but still too high
Refugees wrapped in blankets and winter clothing cross the Macedonia-Serbia border in freezing temperatures in this January 2016 file photo. Photo: UNHCR/Igor Pavicevic
The number of asylum applications in Austria more than halved in 2016 but remains "high" the country's interior minister said as the figures were released Sunday.

Some 42,100 people applied last year, compared to 90,000 in the 12 months previously, when the migration crisis peaked in Europe.

The latest asylum statistics, after the closure of the Balkan route, represent 0.5 percent of the Austrian population.

But Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, quoted in a document released by national news agency APA said it remains a “high level”.

Despite the recent decline, the number of asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, is twice as large as in 2014 and almost three times higher than in 2013, the ministry said.

The rise in applications in the past three years has resulted in a vigorous political debate in Austria.

Several people linked to deadly jihadist assaults in Europe transited through Austria using false papers among the flow of desperate migrants heading into Europe.