austria slovenia migrants.jpg
Photograph: EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

Austria's increasingly restrictive border policies do not only aim to reduce the number of migrants, but also to allay the rise of anti-foreigner sentiments in Europe, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Thursday in Vienna.

She spoke to dpa a day after she had announced that Austria would limit the number of refugees at the border to 3,200 per day for people transiting to other European countries, and to 80 for those who seek asylum in Austria.

"We have to act now, otherwise nationalists will get the upper hand," the Austrian minister said, defending the quotas.

"These measures are not against Europe, but for Europe," the centre-right politician of the People's Party said.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party has been leading in polls nearly continuously for the past nine months, ahead of the Social Democrats and the People's Party, which form the government coalition.

The inflow of migrants has also been fuelling anti-foreigner sentiments in other European countries.

Despite the quota and plans to step up border controls and extraditions, Austria was still interested in a common European solution to the refugee crisis, Mikl-Leitner said as EU leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels to work on this issue.

However, finding such a solution would still take time, she added.

Mikl-Leitner also defended the introduction of daily quotas by pointing to a similar existing German policy at its southern border with Austria.

"We don't understand the astonishment about our step. Germany has been doing this for months," she said.

Austria's large neighbour has been implementing a limit of 50 migrants per hour and 6,000 per day that it lets across its border.

At the height of the refugee crisis, this resulted in a backup in Austria, where between 15,000 to 18,000 people waiting to enter Germany at times, Mikl-Leitner said.

Austria is one of the main Western European destinations for refugees. Some 11,000 refugees have applied for asylum in the country since the start of the year.

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