Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Saturday reiterated his opposition to taking in asylum seekers from the destroyed Moria refugee camp in Greece, prompting criticism from his government coalition partner the Greens and from the opposition.
The fires at Europe’s largest refugee centre, which left more than 12,000 people without shelter, have returned the spotlight to issue of refugees and migrants coming to the European Union, which has struggled to find a response.
Germany and France have agreed to take in nearly 400 minors who have been moved from the island of Lesbos to the Greek mainland, but other EU countries including Austria, Poland and Hungary oppose any such support.
In a video here posted on YouTube, Kurz compared the Moria situation with the summer of 2015 when many asylum seekers tried to reach rich western European countries via the so-called Balkan route.
He said the “terrible pictures at the train station in Budapest” led to European politicians giving in to the pressure and opening borders.
“If we give in to the pressure now, we risk making the same mistakes we made in 2015. We risk giving people false hopes,” Kurz said, adding that he would promote a “holistic approach” at European level. “What it does not need is symbolic politics,” he added.
Kurz’s Green Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler, who favours taking in Moria migrants, said more and more people – local communities, members of Kurz’s conservative party, religious organisations and NGOs – supported such an initiative.
Kogler made the remarks in an interview with ORF radio that was aired on Saturday but was recorded before Kurz’s video was published. He had nothing to add, a spokeswoman said afterwards.
The head of the Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said on Twitter that “saving life is never symbolic policy”.
The country’s Catholic Bishops Conference urged the government to take in a “fair contingent of refugees” and said in a statement the church was ready to accommodate a number of them.
In Lesbos, police fired teargas on Saturday during a protest by angry inhabitants of the destroyed camp, who demanded to leave Lesbos as authorities started building a new encampment for them.