From file: Archive photo from 2015 as asylum seekers walk across the German border with Austria | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/A.Weigel
From file: Archive photo from 2015 as asylum seekers walk across the German border with Austria | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/A.Weigel

Migrant rights groups have slammed Austria's decision to use temporary tents to shelter asylum seekers as winter approaches. Austrian authorities, however, said the country is facing a dire shortage of beds in government housing.

Austrian authorities have set up 40 white tents for migrants at three points near the border with Germany, and two others near Slovenia due to accommodation shortages at federal shelters.

The move has prompted accusations of inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in the alpine nation – currently led by a conservative government.

Authorities said Austria has tripled capacity this year to host 8,000 people in government housing but that all beds have now been taken. 

Thomas Fussenegger, a spokesman for the federal agency in charge of the migrant tents, told French news agency AFP the tents are "short-time emergency measures to increase our capacities on a day-to-day basis."

Tents are 'inhumane' and 'avoidable' migrant groups say

Hundreds of migrants have been intercepted daily in recent weeks after crossing into Austria, according to authorities. Between January and September, more than 70,000 people applied for asylum in Austria compared to some 40,000 people throughout the whole of 2021. Those who arrive must apply for asylum or risk being expelled. Tightened border controls have also increased Austria's official tally of arrivals. 

Most of the arrivals in Austria come from Syria, Afghanistan, India and Tunisia. The country is also supporting tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled war under a special arrangement, and are not required to apply for asylum.

In an open letter to the government last week, migrant support groups demanded authorities provide better housing.

"Refugees in Austria are having to live in tents again. Nobody wants that and this inhumane accommodation is absolutely avoidable," they said.

Winter is coming

Aigner Ferdinand, the conservative mayor of Sankt Georgen im Attergau, objected to the tents, slamming them as "inhumane... especially at this time of year," with winter approaching. He also said some locals expressed "fear" at seeing groups of young men arriving.

European Union countries have criticized Serbia's visa-waiver policy for attracting a wider range of migrants. Although, after some pressure from EU leaders, Serbia announced on Monday that it would be reintroducing visa requirements for citizens of Tunisia and Burundi.

From November 20, Tunisians will have to apply for visas in order to visit Serbia. Serbia was one of the last European countries to allow visa-free travel from North Africa according to the online portal The New Arab.

In early October, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to discuss collaborating together more closely to prevent the flow of migrants. Meetings were held last week in Berlin too between leaders of the West Balkan states and EU ministers.

With AFP

 

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