Arrivals stay far below limits as Austrian refugee quotas take effect

Austria did not push back any asylum seekers at its main migrant border checkpoint on Saturday, police said, as a new quota system was put to its first test.

In a move that was criticized by the European Commission, the government in Vienna decided this week to take in only 80 asylum seekers per day, and to allow a further 3,200 to transit the country daily.

However, the first group that arrived by train to the Slovenian-Austrian border checkpoint at Spielfeld under the new quota system numbered only about 400 people on Saturday.

A dozen of them applied for refugee protection in Austria, while the rest boarded army buses to continue their trip towards neighbouring Germany, spokeswoman Madeleine Heinrich said.

"The situation was very, very calm and relaxed," she told dpa from Spielfeld, currently the chief entry point for migrants into Austria.

Another 400 people were expected to arrive Sunday.

The quota system was introduced Friday, but no refugees and migrants reached Spielfeld that day.

Vienna's new policy has already caused a number of temporary border closures along the Balkan routes, as well as concerns that Greece could soon be faced with surging numbers of migrants who are unable to travel on.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos wrote in an official letter to Vienna on Thursday that the quota system runs counter to European and international law, which stipulates that all asylum requests have to be accepted. At the same time, he said Austria should not wave through migrants.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner pointed out Saturday that asylum seekers arrive at Austria's borders after having been let through other EU countries along the route from Greece through the Balkans.

"If everyone heeded the content of the letter, Austria would not have any problems. The letter was apparently sent to the wrong address," she said in remarks transmitted by her spokesman.

Austria has received 11,000 asylum claims so far this year, following last year's 90,000. The government plans to cap this year's number at 37,500.

Last update: Sat, 20/02/2016 - 16:00
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