Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen's views on Afghan refugees do not reflect those of the Chancellor Sebastian Kurz | Photo: APA/Roland Schlager
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen's views on Afghan refugees do not reflect those of the Chancellor Sebastian Kurz | Photo: APA/Roland Schlager

Austria's head of state says the EU should offer shelter to more Afghan refugees. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is against it. Political debates in Brussels and Berlin reflect the same friction.

Alexander Van der Bellen, the Austrian president and the former head of the green party, said he believes ''the European Union and its member states have a legal, moral and political duty to step up for our responsibility which includes offering shelter to those who have to leave their country behind.'' At the official opening of the Alpbach European Forum on Tuesday, Van der Bellen said that his country must grant protection to the Afghans in need, especially women and contractors of the European countries.

'No more Afghan refugees': chancellor

Van der Bellen’s comments come just a few days after the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, ruled out taking in people fleeing Afghanistan, saying that it won’t happen during his chancellorship. 

The conservative leader said he was ''clearly against the fact that we now voluntarily accept more people,'' in an interview with Austrian broadcaster Puls 24, published Sunday. Referring to Austria's having taken in over 40,000 Afghans in the past few years, Kurz said that the nation has made a “disproportionately large contribution.”

In the interview, the chancellor went on to say that "there are still big problems with the integration, and we are therefore against an additional inclusion."

Van der Bellen says the number of Afghans already living in Austria is ''irrelevant'' to the current situation. He added that the inclusion of 100, 500, or 1,000 families would be technically possible and that Austria can manage to integrate them, as it has done with other refugee communities in the past.

Van der Bellen’s party, the Green Alternative, has shared power with the right-wing People’s Party (ÖVP) since last year. The two parties have shown different approaches towards asylum seekers. The ÖVP has refused to take up asylum-seeking minors from Greece while the Greens secured a significant increase in humanitarian funds.

Debate echoed in Brussels and Berlin

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged EU countries to take in Afghan civilians, saying it was a "moral duty" to help, according to the Associated Press (AP). But the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said: ''We have to ensure that the new political situation created in Afghanistan by the return of the Taliban does not lead to a large-scale migratory movement towards Europe,'' in a meeting with EU foreign ministers on August 17, according to AP.

In Germany, Annalena Baerbock, the Green party leader and chancellor-candidate said that Germany is obliged to take in over 50,000 Afghans. Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier too, said that Berlin should "do everything it can to bring our people and all Afghans who stood for years by their side, to safety," AP reports.

Other German politicians, including Armin Laschet, Baerbock's competitor for the chancellorship, have warned there must be ''no repeat'' of the migration events of 2015.

In 2015, more than one million migrants arrived in Europe, which led to a rise in the popularity of right-wing, Eurosceptic political parties across the EU.

Also read: Germany and Afghan refugees: Municipalities push for international quota


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