Austria ‘breaking tradition of helping those in need’ as it plans to close borders

Austria is in danger of breaking a decades-old tradition of helping those in need as it moves closer to shutting its borders to migrants, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday. “Since World War II, Austria has always adhered to the tradition of protecting refugees. Access to the asylum process has always been a matter of course,” said Christoph Pinter, head of UNHCR in Austria. But the new plans “would represent the breaking of a taboo and a retreat from the protection of refugees,” Mr Pinter said in a statement. He spoke out after Austria’s governing coalition agreed on a draft emergency decree that would allow Austria to block the entry of migrants directly at its borders.

A lot of people are scared. They view everything that is foreign, everything they don’t understand, as scary

Carmen Imnitzer, a volunteer who distributes food to migrants

Chancellor Christian Kern said on Tuesday that the decree would be applied once the government’s upper limit of 37,500 asylum applications for this year was reached. The draft decree remains at least several weeks from being ready to come into force and could face legal challenges, including at EU level. Also on Wednesday, Austria’s interior minister threatened to sue Hungary if it refused to take back migrants who had crossed their shared border. “States or groups of states that permanently break the law have to expect legal consequences,” said Wolfgang Sobotka. Hungary rejected the call.

The (Austrian) republic must sue. The republic must see that the European Union acts according to the law, full stop

Interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka