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Ban reminds Austria, EU of 'moral and political' duties

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has criticized the 'increasingly restrictive' refugee policies imposed by EU nations. On Wednesday, politicians in Austria further tightened asylum restrictions.

Though he didn't name names, Ban Ki-moon pulled no punches when addressing Austria's parliament a day after

lawmakers restricted asylum rights

with a 98-67 vote. The law allows the country to reject asylum applications from people fleeing conflicts such as Syria's civil war, which has displaced more than 4 million people in five years.

"Such policies negatively affect the obligation of member states under international humanitarian law and European law," the UN secretary-general said Thursday.

Austria

straddles the EU's main south-to-north land routes for refugees and received around 90,000 asylum requests in 2015 - the second-highest number in the bloc on a per capita basis. Opposition parties and rights groups slammed Austria's legislation, with the UN's refugee agency warning that it "removes a centerpiece of refugee protection."

Brenner Österreich

Austria has temporarily reimposed certain borders

'Growing xenophobia'

Austrian officials may now impose a six-month "state of emergency" should the number of refugees arriving increase or threaten "national security." Officials could renew their state of emergency thrice more for six months at a time. Once triggered, the state of emergency would only permit refugees whose relatives have already arrived in Austria and those facing danger in a neighboring country such as Hungary to cross

the border.

The new law also called for "limited asylum," which would prevent refugees from settling in Austria by preemptively designating the amount of time they could stay. The legislation also makes it more difficult for refugees to reunite with their families in Austria. The new regulations exempt a select few people, such as minors and pregnant women.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka insisted that Austria had no other choice as long as "so many other European Union members fail to do their part" to keep refugees from the country's borders. However, that argument did not appear convincing to Ban and others.

"We have a moral and political obligation to help those who are fleeing wars, human rights violations and persecution," Ban told Austria's legislature. He added that he had grown "alarmed about growing xenophobia" in Austria,

neighboring Germany

and across the European Union.

About 1 million people - primarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - landed in Europe last year, the largest number of displaced people on the continent since World War II. EU countries have even gone so far as to strike a

controversial deportations deal with Turkey

that allows the bloc to ship refugees whose asylum applications are rejected to the country in a one-to-one swap for preapproved Syrians. Although the pact has led to a sharp drop in arrivals in the month since it went into effect, last week the International Organization for Migration warned that the numbers had started to rise again.

mkg/kms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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