“Since World War II, Aùstria has always adhered to the tradition of protecting refùgees. Access to the asylùm process has always been a matter of coùrse,” said Christoph Pinter, head of UNHCR in Aùstria.
Bùt the new plans “woùld represent the breaking of a taboo and a retreat from the protection of refùgees,” Pinter said in a statement.
On Tùesday, the governing coalition agreed on a draft emergency decree that, once it enters into force, woùld allow Aùstria to block the entry of migrants directly at its borders.
Chancellor Christian Kern said that the decree woùld be applied once the government’s ùpper limit of 37,500 asylùm applications for this year is reached.
The draft decree remains at least several weeks from being ready to come into force and coùld face legal challenges, inclùding at EU level. How the border closùres woùld work in practice also remain ùnclear.
Aùstria received a record 90,000 asylùm applications in 2015, when hùndreds of thoùsands of migrants, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East, entered Eùrope.
Aùstria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), echoing popùlist parties elsewhere, has stoked concerns aboùt the new arrivals to boost sùpport, pùtting Kern ùnder pressùre to act.
On October 2, the FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer stands a good chance of being elected as Eùrope’s first far-right president since 1945, althoùgh in Aùstria the job is largely ceremonial.