October 3, 2015 / 4:23 PM / in 2 years

Thousands march in Vienna to show support for migrants

VIENNA/HELSINKI (Reuters) - More than 20,000 people took to the streets in Vienna on Saturday to show support for migrants and reject a recent upswing in support for Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO).

Protesters march during a demonstration in support of refugees in Vienna, Austria, October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Last month alone, about 200,000 refugees and migrants - many fleeing war in Syria - entered the nation of 8.5 million, fuelling support for the FPO in recent provincial elections and national polls.

Protesters, including students and families with children, marched towards parliament, holding up posters reading “In with the refugees, out with the FPO” and “No walls around Europe”.

FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who vows to protect what he calls Austria’s Christian and Western identity, is running for mayor of Vienna in an Oct. 11 election.

“We’re very worried about Strache doing well in the Vienna election,” said Christof, a 28-year-old who works for the city administration, wearing a badge with Strache’s face crossed out.

Strache has called for a fence to be built around Austria to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom pass through the country on their way to their preferred destination, Germany.

Only 9,000 people asked for asylum in Austria last month, with the rest looking to settle further north in Europe.

In Finland, which on Friday said it expected about 50,000 asylum-seekers to reach the country this year compared to 3,600 in 2014, hundreds of people protested to urge the center-right government to clamp down on immigration.

The recession-hit Nordic country is struggling to cope with the influx and demonstrators at the anti-immigration rallies in Tornio, Helsinki, Lahti and other cities said authorities were doing too much to help the migrants.

“We want the state to take care of its own,” said Junes Lokka, one of about 400 people who participated in the Tornio demonstration, some chanting “Close the borders”.

Drawn by an existing Iraqi community and eased asylum criteria, Iraqi refugees in particular have in recent months traveled through Central Europe and Sweden, crossing the Finnish border at the small town of Tornio near the Arctic Circle.

“Instead of taking the asylum seekers who come (through) Sweden, we should turn them back,” Lokka added.

Several smaller counter-protests were held by anti-racism groups to support migrants in the nation of 5.5 million people.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila himself has shown openness towards the refugees, offering his house in the north to be used by the asylum seekers. But the migrant crisis is a big challenge for co-ruling euroskeptic party the Finns, which has long campaigned for tighter controls of immigration.

Reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki and Attila Cser in Tornio; Editing by Helen Popper

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