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Austria bears brunt after Germany toughens refugee stance

Considerably more refugees are seeking asylum in Austria since Germany announced a tougher policy. Austrian officials worry a transit zone would confuse issues even more, as Alison Langley reports from Salzburg.

This week Austria has averaged between 500 and 600 asylum requests per day, up from about 400 per day in previous weeks, according to Karl-Heinz Grunboeck, a spokesman for Austria's Interior Ministry.

Salzburg's mayor, Heinz Schaden, said his border town had averaged about 35 requests per day in the last few weeks. On Monday they received 300.

Grunboeck said he could not speculate why his country has seen 37 percent more asylum requests in one week. But Schaden said he felt it was because Germany appeared to be making it more difficult for refugees.

While he praised the current cooperation with Germany, Schaden added that problems could arise if Austria's neighbor erects transit zones. "If this transit zone comes, then I see a problem," Schaden said. "German officials will have to process asylum requests directly on the border and they will send back people with no rights to asylum - they specifically name Afghans and we have a lot of Afghanis here. I think then there will really be a backlog on the border," he told DW.

people lining up at border copyright: APA/BARBARA GINDL

Austria is struggling to cope with the growing influx of refugees

Weighing choices

While politicians both here and in Germany mull over the next steps, Mahbibi Hosseini, 25, from Afghanistan, sits under a tree at a temporary camp in Salzburg with perhaps eight or nine family members deliberating whether to stay in Austria or Germany. Hosseini has just heard from her sister, who already is in Germany, that officials there aren't taking Afghan refugees anymore and she asks whether that is true.

"If we have no place because the Germans don't let us in, then we have a problem," she told DW in excellent English. "In Syria there has been war for five years, but we have had war for the past 50 years. When I was born, there was war. I'm 25."

She points to a girl who is perhaps two or three years old. "When my daughter was born, there was war. We have no place. What should we do?"

Afghan requests "unacceptable"

Last week Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere signaled a toughening of the government's refugee policy when he announced that his country would send back most asylum seekers from Afghanistan and "tens of thousands" from the Balkans.

More migrants are now coming to Europe from Afghanistan than any country other than Syria, de Maiziere said, adding it was "unacceptable" because many are members of the middle class and residents from Kabul who "should remain and help build the country up."

three people sitting at table copyright: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Their options are decreasing rapidly

But Hosseini may even have a problem in Austria. This week the country's interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, announced a new law that would force most Afghans to wait for three years, rather than one year under current rules, to be able to bring family members to Austria. They would also have to have an independent source of income, health insurance and accomodation.

That law, which is due to take force from mid-November even though parliament would not consider it until December, would apply to those granted "subsidiary protection" rather than those being granted full political asylum, such as most Syrians.

Most Afghans seeking political asylum in Austria are currently granted this temporary permission to stay.

Growing burden

Austria received a total of 66,288 requests for asylum in the first 10 months of this year. The country expects more than 80,000 by year end. Until recently Afghans were the second-largest group of asylum seekers here after Syrians.

In October, however more Afghans asked to stay in Austria. Interior Ministry spokesman Grunboeck said he didn't have exact numbers yet for last week or this week, but said it appeared that trend was continuing.

Per capita, Austria has now taken in as many refugees as Germany, Salzburg's mayor Schaden said, adding that the two countries alone could not manage the burden of all the refugees and that it was time other countries stepped up to the plate.

"The countries from the former eastern bloc who came to the EU were so happy to receive monetary help from EU, the development money to help them out and now they say, 'we won't help you.'"

"My worry is that the transit possibility here slowly will be needed for asylum seekers and we can't use it to bring people to the border."

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