(Reuters) - Austria will improve its accommodation for asylum seekers as winter approaches and increase capacity at refugee-processing centers in anticipation of tens of thousands of new arrivals, Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Tuesday.
Even before Austria and Germany threw open their borders last weekend to a wave of migrants, the Austrian government pledged to improve conditions at its centers for asylum seekers.
A report by Amnesty International last month said conditions at one center in Traiskirchen, south of Vienna, were “unacceptable” and found that as many as 2,000 people there had only blankets for shelter.
Faymann told a news conference after a cabinet meeting that asylum seekers would be housed in better conditions.
“Tents are to be replaced with accommodation that can withstand winter and the cold,” he said, “that is, solid accommodation — appropriately modified containers or, even better, buildings that are capable of sheltering people even in winter.”
Austria has one of the highest proportions of asylum seekers in the European Union, and the authorities have often resorted to temporary forms of accommodation for them, especially tents.
Around 20,000 migrants streamed through Austria from Hungary at the weekend on their way to Germany, a volume that German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “breathtaking”.
Only several hundred of those who crossed the Hungarian border requested asylum in Austria, but Faymann said his country was preparing to provide accommodation for tens of thousands of asylum seekers in addition to the 50,000 already here.
“We had previously presumed that these 50,000 could rise to 60 or 70,000,” Faymann said.
“We must therefore also take precautionary measures to ensure that we can provide these necessary additional 10, 20 or possibly even 30,000 units of accommodation,” he added.
Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said the budget would have to be modified in light of the influx. The government planned to meet on Friday to discuss the financial fallout.
Faymann renewed his call for an emergency European leaders’ summit on the migration crisis shortly after an interior ministers’ meeting on the issue next week.
He wants EU member states to agree to binding quotas for the redistribution of asylum seekers but has faced opposition from Eastern European states including Hungary, with whom relations have soured over the migration crisis.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Ralph Boulton