Since the summer, more and more refugees have been arriving at the Buchs border station in the St. Gallen Rhine Valley.
Pascal DeChazer and Leah Hartmann
The difference is huge: Austria, with a population of 8.98 million, registered 56,000 asylum seekers from the start of the year to the end of August. By then, Switzerland counted only 12,300 applications. By late summer, the Alpine Republic had one asylum seeker for every 160 citizens. In slightly smaller Switzerland, there were 707 asylum seekers per person.
Meanwhile, the number is clearly 15,000 here, but the number of asylum seekers also continues to rise in Austria.
Blame it on geography
Why do more people seek asylum in Austria than in Switzerland? It should not be due to better air or comfortable accommodation. According to the documents of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), this is related to the geographical location of Austria.
An important factor is the border with Hungary. According to migration experts, it is difficult to assess exactly what the refugee situation is like in Hungary. Required information is missing. It is only clear that a particularly large number of refugees come from there to Austria. SEM writes: “Most asylum seekers in Austria are stopped at the border with Hungary.”
SEM spokesperson Reto Gorman said: “We are trying to provide 9,500 seats.”(00:58)
Most of these migrants have applied for asylum in Austria – but only to avoid being sent back to Hungary, according to Swiss asylum officials. UN for Switzerland and Liechtenstein Anja Klug, head of the refugee agency UNHCR’s office, adds: “Experience shows that many people who currently apply for asylum in Austria or Switzerland do not want to stay.” The part that cannot be considered disappears and “travels to France and Great Britain”. Switzerland in particular is not a destination for many.
It is therefore not surprising that many migrants stop at Switzerland’s eastern border on their way west. And that number is growing. A year ago in August, 554 people were stopped at the eastern border, but in August 2022 the Border Patrol already counted 3,665 people — almost seven times as many.
Gateway to Serbia
But Austria also receives migrants from the Western Balkans, the countries of the former Yugoslavia. At the European level, a recurring theme is that Serbia allows Indians, Tunisians, Cubans, Chinese and Burundians to enter the country without visas. Some people who come to Serbia without a visa do not return to their home country, but they enter the Schengen area illegally.
Croatia is calling
According to Kluk, the fact that Croatia will soon become part of Schengen may also play a role: “For many, this may be an incentive to cross the border into Croatia before the entire country is part of the Schengen area.”
As UNHCR’s Kluck says, you are currently dealing with a “mixed population movement.” So refugees will come from trouble spots outside of Europe, of which there are currently many, but also other immigrants. All used the same routes and border crossings. “A lot of people are traveling to Western Europe now from a European country for a long time,” says Kluck. Especially from Greece, adds SEM.
“Difficult economic conditions after the corona, due to the war in Ukraine and high energy prices will push many people to leave or continue to travel,” explains the UNHCR official.
Due to a sharp increase in asylum applications in Switzerland in recent weeks, the SEM now assumes at least 22,000 applications this year. Also, 60,000 people in Switzerland are currently seeking asylum in Ukraine. Also added here.
Civs are required
Austria is also heavily affected by Ukrainian refugees, perhaps due to its geographical location. By the end of September, 82,000 men, women and children had sought protection fleeing Russia’s war of aggression. In Austria, migrants are already required to stay in tents.
The authorities of this country are trying to prevent this. Hence central government, mandals and communes are expanding accommodation. But there is also a shortage of staff.
They also seek out social service people to ensure that refugees are cared for. Up to six GVs are stationed at federal asylum centers. But more is needed: more than twenty civil service jobs in asylum centers are currently being advertised.
The situation is challenging. But UNHCR’s Anja Klug stresses that the situation is nowhere near comparable to the refugee waves of 2015 and 2016. And he notes: “In Austria, where the number of refugees is significantly higher than in Switzerland, the accommodation crisis is primarily home-made.”
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