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Europe

Austria's far right sues over border protection

As European countries seek solutions to stem the flow of refugees and Austria's Freedom Party goes on a lawsuit spree, migrant officials say many of the tools are already in place. Alison Langley reports from Vienna.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party has filed suit against three top government officials for failing to protect the country's borders against the influx of migrants this year, and charges rail officials with human trafficking for their part in helping refugees transit from the country's eastern border to Germany.

The Freedom Party names in its suit, filed on Tuesday, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Chancellor Werner Faymann and Defense Minister Gerald Klug, as well as unnamed "responsible persons" at the Austrian Railway. In the suit, rail officials are accused of allowing "uncontrolled and unregistered people" at the bidding of the government to travel across the country. In doing so, they were engaging in human trafficking, the suit charges.

"What they are doing is completely irresponsible," says Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. "Because people are being checked, we don't know whether they are victims of real catastrophe, real refugees or jihadists."

man signing document copyright: Alison Langley

The Freedom Party accuses the government of human trafficking

He charges that the country has allowed about 430,000 people Illegal entry into the country since the beginning of September.

The Austrian government rejected the suit as frivolous.

On Monday, rail officials told Austrian broadcaster ORF that from a legal viewpoint, because they took no money from the refugees, they do not fall under the legal definition of a trafficker. From a practical matter, if trains and buses had not been used to help refugees travel, Austrian roads and train stations would have been overwhelmed.

Hysterical talk

Migration officials criticized the suit as unhelpful. Most big migration movements begin illegally, including the 200,000 Hungarians who crossed into Austria in 1956 and the wave of Bosnians who flooded the country in 1992.

"We have to move away from hysterical talk and have a more rational approach" to the migration, Katerina Kratzmann, director of the International Organization for Migration's Vienna office, told DW.

Although the

EU interior ministers are meeting to seek solutions,

there is no one single quick fix that will appease critics of the migrants. Hungary has built a fence and

Austria is eyeing one too

: a decision is expected later this week. Germany is considering a plan whereby families must stay in war-torn countries and Sweden says it wants to resettle some refugees to other lands.

man behind a fence copyright: Getty Images/AFP/V. Simicek

Austria could make a decision to build a border fence later this week

But working to keep migrants in their home countries - or near them - helps. So, too, does an orderly resettlement of vulnerable people.

Governments not living up to UN commitments

Germany is expected to take in more than 800,000 people this year. Sweden will resettle 190,000 migrants and Austria expects 85,000 men, women and children to seek asylum. Per capita, Sweden and

Austria have taken in the most this year.

The sudden influx has a lot to do with the living conditions of where they are coming from. In the last five years since the Arab Spring, refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been overwhelmed.

Faced with overwhelming refugee numbers, the countries neighboring Syria are overwhelmed. Lebanon has accepted more than 1.2 million Syrians and has begun to restrict access and introduce onerous and complex requirements for refugees to extend their stay, according to the United Nation's High Commission for Refugees.

Food is scarce and international aid to programs that were designed to help refugees near their home countries have been underfunded. Eleven EU countries, including Austria, Hungary and Slovakia have not paid any of the promised aid this year to the World Food Program, according to the European Union. Germany has paid only half of its commitment.

"It's been known that the World Food Program didn't have money to feed people, yet the (European) governments didn't give their funding," Kratzmann says. "Austria didn't pay any distributions."

Nor, she adds, have Western governments helped to expand agricultural programs in the region, which, in the long run, help ease problems for the poor.

Unused resettlement programs

Most Syrians who have fled the five-year war live outside of formal camps and cannot find jobs to support themselves. Scrupulous landlords and grocers have hiked prices so many of those fleeing war quickly use up their savings and sink deeper into poverty.

"Lebanon is expensive. There was no work, no money, no school for my kid," Kaasem Zaabi told DW last week as he waited to cross the border from Austria to Germany.

But Kratzmann says few means exist for them to arrive legally. In the first 10 months of this year, the IOM estimates that more than 3,200 men, women and children died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea illegally. This already exceeds the 3,149 reported deaths in 2014 and doesn't include the likely large number of unreported deaths.

Governments can issue humanitarian visas that are given to applicants who wish to study or conduct research. Another legal way to arrive is via resettlement programs, in which international government organizations like UNHCR and IOM identify candidates for resettlement, perform health checks and provide cultural sensitivity training before transporting them to their new homes.

Austria will accept 1,500 people from IOM's resettlement program this year, Kratzmann said.

In lieu of finding a legal way to flee, migrants must pay smugglers. They find ways to cross borders illegally, Kratzmann said, regardless of fences. And right-wing parties inevitably find ways to gain political points by suing.

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