VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will take tougher action at its borders to turn away “economic migrants” in order to reduce overall immigration, Chancellor Werner Faymann said, striking a harsher tone on asylum seekers.
Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere have entered Austria, many en route to Germany, in the past year.
Around 90,000 of those sought asylum in Austria – a country of 8.5 million people – in 2015, around three times more than the previous year, ORF radio said, citing Interior Ministry statistics.
“One must transit to a Plan B. That means to intensify policies together with Germany to send back economic migrants and decrease overall numbers,” Social Democrat Faymann said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Krone published on Tuesday.
He said Austria needed to explore the legal framework for differentiating between those fleeing war and those who migrate for economic reasons.
“One thing is certain in any case: shortly, we will be more active at our borders than today. The Germans will also do more,” Faymann said.
Once more lenient on accepting migrants, Faymann has come under pressure from his conservative coalition partners and the far-right Freedom Party, which in recent opinion polls won the support of around a third of those surveyed.
Last month, Faymann said Austria should step up deportations of people who do not qualify for asylum.
In Germany, attacks on women in several cities on New Year’s Eve have prompted hundreds of complaints, with police suspicion resting on asylum seekers, putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door migrant policy.