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1st Mar 2024

Austria imposes asylum cap to 'shake up' Europe

  • Faymann: 'We cannot take in all asylum seekers in Austria, or in Germany, or in Sweden' (Photo: SPO Presse)

Austria has said it will place a cap on the number of asylum claims it will process. The German president, the same day, said it may be “morally and politically” necessary to limit numbers.

The Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, announced that the number of claims will be limited to 1.5 percent of the Austrian population over the next four years.

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The cap means it will limit claims to 37,500 this year, 35,000 in 2017, 30,000 in 2018, and 25,000 in 2019. By comparison, it handled 90,000 claims last year, more than 1 percent of the population.

Faymann said the “emergency measure,” the first of its type in Europe, is designed to “shake up” the EU, which remains divided on refugee-sharing plans.

“We cannot take in all asylum seekers in Austria, or in Germany, or in Sweden," he said, referring to the EU states taking in the most migrants.

"We must also step up controls at our borders massively,” he added.

He didn’t specify what the border measures might involve, or what would happen if the number of asylum applications exceeds his quota.

But his comments are likely to prompt concern in Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia - the migrants' main transit route to Austria and Germany.

Speaking in Vienna one day earlier, on Tuesday, Austria’s finance minister, Hans Joerg Schelling, said Austria’s coordination with Germany on migrants is “business as usual.”

But he added: “If Germany decides to seal its borders, where will Europe stand?”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has, so far, championed an open-door policy for people fleeing conflicts.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, on Wednesday, declined to comment on the Austrian plan. But he said, according to Reuters: “The German government still favours a joint European solution, which tackles the causes of migration in order to reduce the number of refugees significantly and noticeably.”

Gauck

Merkel stayed away from the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, taking place this week, in order to devote more time to migration issues.

But the German president, Joachim Gauck, said in a speech in Davos on Wednesday that Germany is, like Austria, “discussing limits in terms of the number of people we can absorb.”

“A limitation strategy may even be both morally and politically necessary in order to preserve the state’s ability to function,” he said. “If democrats don’t want to talk about limits, populists and xenophobes will march in.”

Gauck criticised former Communist EU states for not wanting to take part in the EU’s refugee-sharing projects.

“I can comprehend only with difficulty when precisely those nations whose citizens, once themselves politically oppressed and who experienced solidarity, in turn, withdraw their solidarity for the oppressed,” he said.

“No other problem has divided and jeopardised the European Union as much as the refugee question,” he added.

IMF report

His comments are a political blow for Merkel.

But for its part, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in a report out on Wednesday, said the EU states which take in the most people will get the biggest economic windfall.

The report predicts that 1.3 million people a year will come to Europe until the end of 2017.

It says the influx will contribute a 0.13 percent increase to the EU's GDP in 2017. But the migrant-related boost will be 0.5 percent in Austria, 0.3 percent in Germany, and 0.4 percent in Sweden.

“The negative effects of immigrant surges tend to be short-lived and temporary,” Enrica Detragiache, one of the report’s authors, told press, Bloomberg reports.

“There will be a huge challenge to try to bring the skills the refugees can bring to the labour market in line with the demands of industry,” she added.

But if migrants can be found jobs, their contribution to the GDPs of Austria, Germany, and Sweden could reach 1.1 percent by 2020, the IMF said.

Tusk sets EU two-month deadline on migrant crisis

The EU Council president has warned that the March summit "will be the last moment to see if our strategy works". He also said he would soon "table a concrete proposal" for a deal with the UK.

EU upset by Austria's asylum 'provocation'

The decision to cap the number of asylum seekers and wave them on to neighbouring countries is a blow to Germany and has been deemed unlawful by the EU Commission.

Greece risks Schengen expulsion

Austria's interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, wants Greece booted out of the passport-free Schengen zone unless it secures its, and the EU's, external borders.

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