VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria has stopped processing asylum requests in an effort to pressure other European Union member states to do more to help absorb waves of refugees pouring into the continent, the country’s interior minister was quoted on Saturday as saying.
Vienna needs to “stop the Austrian asylum express” and become less attractive to refugees relative to its EU peers, Johanna Mikl-Leitner told Die Presse newspaper, renewing her demand for other countries to adopt fixed quotas for taking in asylum seekers.
“So far there have been only isolated declarations of intent that do not bring us further,” she said ahead of a planned meeting of interior ministers from the 28-nation EU on Tuesday.
Last month the European Commission proposed to ease pressure on Italy and Greece, which are struggling to deal with thousands of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats from Libya, through an emergency scheme to redistribute 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers throughout the EU.
But France and Germany, two of the EU’s largest states which under the plan would together take nearly 40 percent of the migrants, have raised concerns about the Commission proposals. Britain, which has an exemption in EU matters on immigration, has said it will not participate in the scheme.
Asylum requests for Austria rose nearly 160 percent in the first four months of the year to 14,225, government data show.
Mikl-Leitner said Austria, which has resorted to housing hundreds of refugees in tents, was fastest among EU member states in handling asylum requests and thus allowing refugees’ families to join them.
The paper said Austria ruled on asylum requests within four months on average, while nearly half of requests in the EU took at least six months.
Austrian opposition parties and refugee support groups criticized Mikl-Leitner’s decision to stop processing the asylum requests as irresponsible.
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Gareth Jones