December 21, 2015 / 7:49 AM / 2 years ago

Vice chancellor says Austria cannot accept more than 100,000 migrants

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s Vice Chancellor said on Monday that Austria could not accept much more than the roughly 100,000 asylum seekers it expects to receive this year, following a pledge from its larger neighbor Germany to limit arrival numbers.

Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner arrives to attend a European People's Party (EPP) congress in Madrid, Spain, October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, have entered Austria on their route northwest from the Balkans since early September.

Most have moved on to Germany, but Austria still expects to have received about 95,000 asylum applications this year, equivalent to more than 1 percent of its population, compared with the 28,000 registered in 2014. Of those, 38 percent were approved.

“Around 90-100,000 -- a lot more will simply not be possible,” Reinhold Mitterlehner, from the conservative OVP, junior partner in the coalition, told ORF radio, pointing to bottlenecks in available accommodation for asylum seekers.

“That’s not the sum which comes in addition every year,” he told reporters on Monday. “Those who leave, who get integrated...those who return to their countries - that’s roughly the room for maneuver which we have for the next few years.”

Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat who has generally adopted a more compassionate tone on the issue than the conservatives, was quoted as saying on Saturday that Austria should step up deportations of migrants who do not qualify for asylum.

Faymann has also emphasized that policy decisions have been closely coordinated with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, who has pledged to “noticeably reduce the number of refugees”, fending off a challenge from critics of her own.

Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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