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Austrian Parliament Approves Tough Asylum Laws

  • VOA News

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, attends a session of Austria's lower house at the parliament in Vienna, Austria, April 28, 2016.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, attends a session of Austria's lower house at the parliament in Vienna, Austria, April 28, 2016.

The Austrian parliament approved Europe's strictest asylum laws Thursday in response to the migrant crisis in the continent.

The bill, which passed by 98 votes to 67, permits the government to declare a "state of emergency" if migrant numbers suddenly rise. The law also stipulates that asylum seekers would be turned back directly at the border, including those from war-torn countries like Syria.

The legislation makes it more difficult for relatives of asylum seekers to join their family members in Austria.

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said Austria had no other choice as long as "so many other European Union members fail to do their part" to stop the migrant and refugee influx.

"We cannot shoulder the whole world's burden," he said.

A migrant man throws a can of the tear gas back toward Macedonian police during a protest at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece, April 10, 2016.

A migrant man throws a can of the tear gas back toward Macedonian police during a protest at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece, April 10, 2016.

Opposition parties and rights groups have criticized the legislation.

Austria received about 90,000 asylum requests in 2015, the second highest in the bloc on a per capita basis.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday told Austria's lower house of parliament that increasing restrictions on migrants will "negatively impact" Europe's commitments to international law.

Migrants stand behind a fence at the Nizip refugee camp in Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, April 23, 2016.

Migrants stand behind a fence at the Nizip refugee camp in Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, April 23, 2016.

Ban, the first foreign dignitary to address a session of Austria's parliament, did not single out any country in his speech to lawmakers in Vienna, but said he was alarmed about "growing xenophobia," as Europe faces its worst migrant crisis in decades.

"But I am concerned that European countries are now adopting increasingly restrictive immigration and refugee policies,” he said. “Such policies and measures negatively affect the obligations of member states on the international humanitarian law and European law. I welcome the open discussions in Europe including in Austria, on integration; but I am alarmed again about growing xenophobia here and beyond."

Ban told the legislators that, under international and European laws, they have a moral and legal principal obligation to help those fleeing war, human rights abuses, and persecution.

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