Austria to tighten controls on flow of refugees

Vienna expects to gradually restore border restrictions after previously allowing refugees unrestricted passage.

Austria has plans to end emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees to flow into the country since Saturday. 

Thousands of refugees reach Germany

In an announcement on Sunday, Austria’s Chancellor Werner Faymann said his country would move gradually “towards normality”.

“We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation,” Faymann said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn nations have arrived in Austria and Germany since Saturday, after being stuck in Hungary for days.

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Vienna had suspended its random border checks after photographs appeared online of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach. The images sparked global outcry and calls within Europe for governments to do more to help those trying to reach the European Union.

Vienna had agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach.

Faymann said that decision was being revised following “intensive talks” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is bitterly opposed to the waiver.

Orban, who has portrayed the crisis as a defence of Europe’s prosperity, identity and “Christian values” against a tide of mainly Muslim refugees, said Germany was encouraging the influx.

As long as Austria and Germany don't say clearly that they won't take in any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe

by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

“As long as Austria and Germany don’t say clearly that they won’t take in any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe,” he told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Refugees ‘overwhelmed’

Despite Orban’s comments, large groups of Germans and Austrians have flooded entry points in towns and cities across the two countries to welcome refugees.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Nickelsdorf in Austria, said many refugees felt overwhelmed by the response they had received from locals.

“Everybody we’ve spoken with here today in Nickelsdorf says that their treatment here in Austria has been exceptional, that it’s been so much better than the way they were treated in Hungary,” Jamjoom said.

One refugee told Jamjoom that the only thing stopping him from staying in Austria was having family members in other EU countries.

“We get treatment, we get food, we get water… I like the people, I like the country. I swear I would stay here … but my family is in Holland,” said Adnan, a Syrian refugee.

Amid the flow of refugees into the country from Austria, the German government has decided to free up an additional $3.35bn for federal states and municipalities to deal with the refugee crisis.


Leaders from Merkel’s governing coalition also agreed to speed up asylum procedures and facilitate the construction of asylum shelters in a meeting on Sunday. 

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The agreement also included widening the list of countries deemed “safe”, meaning their citizens generally have no claim to asylum, to include Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro. Among those already in that category are Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia.

The aim is to speed up asylum and extradition procedures for those from southeastern Europe, in order to focus on refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Europe is deeply divided on how to deal with its most severe refugee crisis since World War II. Germany, Austria, and Sweden have called on other EU states to take on a fairer share of refugees, but that suggestion faces opposition from a number of Eastern European states, as well as far-right groups domestically.

European leaders have faced pressure domestically to do more for refugees in light of a series of deadly incidents [AP]
European leaders have faced pressure domestically to do more for refugees in light of a series of deadly incidents [AP]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies