Austria has reportedly almost run out of space to shelter asylum seekers in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine
FILE PHOTO. © Global Look Press / IMAGO / Christoph Reichwein
The massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers, including those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, has pushed Austria’s accommodation capacities to the limit, the newspaper Kronen Zeitung reported on Monday. The Alpine nation of just 8 million has already resorted to setting up tent camps due to the lack of free space – a measure that has been met with heavy criticism by locals.
The federal authorities have set up at least 25 eight-person tents in various parts of the country, 23 of which are already occupied, the outlet reports, adding that the total number of such tent camps planned by the government is still unknown.
As many as 15 of these tents have been set up in the small community of St. Georgen, which already houses the federal refugee center of Thalham, the paper said. News of the plans sparked an uproar among the locals.
“We certainly won’t put up with it now,” said Ferdinand Aigner, the mayor of St. Georgen. His community already experienced a crime wave back in 2004, when the federal authorities converted Thalham into a reception center for asylum seekers. At that time, local women reported sexual harassment and business owners complained of shoplifting.
This time, federal officials informed the local authorities about the planned measure just a day before the tents were set up. “They just left me out in the rain,” Aigner told Der Standard newspaper, adding that the local shelter already houses 200 people, as well as 62 “orphans” from Ukraine.
According to Austrian media, the tents are mostly reserved for “young men,” while women and children are housed elsewhere. Upper Austria’s provincial councilor for social affairs, Wolfgang Hattmannsdorfer, responded by vowing to increase the police presence in the area.
Austria’s eastern state of Burgenland was even more critical of Vienna’s actions. “There will certainly be no large emergency shelters, camps or tents in Burgenland,” a regional MP, Roland Fuerst, said, calling the situation “a total failure” of the federal government.
Asylum seekers themselves have also complained about the measure. It is “freezing cold” in the tents, one of them told Austria’s OE24 media outlet, even though they are supposed to be heated.
More than 56,000 people requested asylum in Austria between January and August, the Interior Ministry has reported. Although most of the refugees still come from the Middle East and South Asia, those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine add to the already heavy burden Austria has to bear, according to the media.