Austria has seen a 53 per cent decrease in the number of migrants applying for asylum over the past year after strengthening border controls.
The central European country has seen a significant drop in asylum applications over the past year. In 2016, from January to May, there were 22,419 requests for asylum. During the same period this year, the number has fallen to 10,520 following the toughened border security with Italy which has impacted the movement of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Kronen Zeitung reports.
If the numbers remain at the same pace for the rest of the year, Austria would expect around 26,000 new asylum applications for 2017. The number would mark a significant difference from last year’s 36,030, which came close to the upper limit of 37,500 set by the government, and the record 90,000 applications in 2015.
Whilst the number has gone down, largely due to border security, it is not as low as what several Austrian political parties would prefer. Earlier this year, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) said the migrant upper limit should be reduced to 17,000, whilst the anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) said it should be reduced to zero.
FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said the emphasis should be placed on deporting illegal migrants and sorting through asylum claims, rather than allowing more migrants into the country.
Of the 10,520 asylum claims so far this year, 7,344 have been processed into an investigation phase whilst another 2,292 have been approved, mostly from asylum applications submitted in 2016.
The largest group of asylum seekers are Syrian nationals with 3,457 applications. Afghan nationals were the second largest group followed by Nigerians. Around 90 per cent of Syrians have had their asylum claims approved, whilst only 35 per cent of Afghan migrants were granted refugee status.
The number of open cases has also been reduced from its all-time high of 79,723 cases in 2015 to 67,366.
The main migrant route this year has been the central Mediterranean route from North Africa through to Italy. The Austrian government has greatly strengthened its border with Italy which caused conflict last year when pro-migrant open borders activists protested the move by attacking police and demanding the migrants be let through.
The Austrians have also called for the closure of the Mediterranean route entirely. Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said Europe must secure its southern external border to stop the flow of migrants and the subsequent drownings that also occur.
“A rescue in the open sea cannot be a ticket to Europe, because it gives criminal gangs every argument to persuade people to escape their countries for economic reasons,” he said.