Austria latest EU country to announce tougher borders

Migrants walk during snowfall before passing Austrian-German border
Migrants walk during snowfall before passing Austrian-German border DR

Austria became the latest European country to say it will reinforce its borders to slow down the flow of asylum seekers on Tuesday. The announcement follows similar moves in Scandinavia and Germany and would appear to allow border personnel to distinguish between refugees and “economic migrants”.


As German authorities refuse entry to a growing number of asylum seekers, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said it was time for a “Plan B” to manage migration flows.

“That means to intensify policies together with Germany to send back economic migrants and decrease overall numbers,” Faymann told Austrian tabloid Krone.

Karl-Heinz Grundböck, Austrian interior ministry spokesperson

The announcement comes as Austrian authorities say Germany has been refusing entry to up to 200 migrants per day this month, about three times more than in previous months.

German police admitted on Tuesday to be refusing passage to a growing number of migrants seeking entry from Austria.

“It is true that the number is higher in the past days,” news agency AFP cites an unnamed federal police spokesperson as saying.

Austrian officials indicated that determining who qualified as an economic migrant would not come as a result of a shift in asylum policy, but would be decided at borders.

“Whether someone is accepted as a refugee or not is the result of an asylum procedure according to the rule of law,” Karl-Heinz Grundböck, spokesperson for Austria’s interior ministry, told RFI.

“We’re not talking about a change in the procedure. What we’re talking about is a change in the operational procedures at the borders, because there’s a difference in the procedures of the German authorities and the Austrian authorities.”

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The hardening tone comes as Austria finds greater numbers of asylum seekers turned away not just from Germany, but from other destinations.

Throughout 2015, Austria was largely a transit country for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, who entered Europe via Greece and moved through the Balkans on their way to Germany or Sweden.

Sweden began checking IDs of anyone crossing from Copenhagen last week, citing its own overstretched asylum system as a need to clamp down on new arrivals, prompting Denmark to impose stronger controls at its border with Germany.

Austria did register around 90,000 asylum requests in 2015, more than triple compared to the 28,000 in 2014, according to interior ministry figures reported on Tuesday. 

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