Vienna has revealed a plan to drastically reduce the number of migrants it will accept in the coming year. Austria has become a key transit point for refugees traveling between eastern and western Europe.
Austria announced on Wednesday that it had decided to cut the number of refugees accepted into the country by half in 2016. Chancellor Werner Faymann, meeting with leaders from across the nation in Vienna, said they had decided on a four-year cap for migrants in the small landlocked nation.
"We can't take all asylum seekers here in Austria," said Faymann after the meeting, adding that the government was only prepared to take in "about 130,000" more refugees through 2019.
"We have fixed this number as a guideline... We will study what happens when this limit is reached," the chancellor said.
In the coming year, Austria will only accept 37,500 asylum claims, he said, a drastic decrease from the 90,000 it received in 2015. Faymann said that the cap, which accounts for 1.5 percent of Austria's 8.5 million inhabitants, would serve as a "wake up call for the EU" in an "emergency situation" the bloc isn't addressing properly.
Austria at the crossroads
Austria's convenient location on the road from eastern Europe to Germany and Scandinavia has seen the country become an important transit area for the continent's unprecedented refugee influx.
The crisis has led to increased popularity for the far-right and created a tense standoff between the ruling coalition parties, Faymann's Social Democrats and the Austrian people's party.
Faymann at first balked at issuing a refugee limit, taking his lead from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy. Yet in recent weeks, Austria has mirrored their German neighbor's increasingly wary approach to the wave of migrants, including a plan to send asylum seekers back to its southern border with Slovenia.
Following that decision, Foreign Minsiter Sebastian Kurz then said that a lack of action in Brussels is what had forced Austria to implement its own measures.
Austria's move comes after it said it would send migrants not seeking asylum in Austria or Germany back to Slovenia. This came in response to Germany sending some migrants back across the border and both Denmark and Sweden conducting identification checks in response to being overburdened by refugees.
The domino effect of tighter borders continued on Wednesday as Serbia announced that in response to Austria's decision it would close its border with Macedonia to refugees not seeking asylum in Austria or Germany.
Serbia's decision then prompted Macedonia later in the day to close its border with Greece.
Last year the Balkan states threatened to tighten their borders to migrants if destination countries in Europe started implementing border restrictions.
Balkan countries at the time expressed concern border closures further north would lead to migrants being sandwiched in their territory instead of only transiting.
Croatia and Slovenia are expected to now cut the number of people allowed into their territory.
es/kms (AFP, dpa)