Austria is drawing up tough new laws to send refugees home if the security situation improves in their own countries.
Under the proposed legislation, refugees fleeing wars and persecution would only be granted asylum for three years. After this initial period, their cases would be re-evaluated and only those still considered at risk would be allowed to stay in the country.
Austria is struggling to cope with a record influx that has seen it hosting more asylum-seekers per capita of its population that any other country in Europe.
The new law is a “signal that asylum is something which is temporary”, Werner Faymann, the Austrian chancellor, said.
Under the current system, those who are granted full asylum as refugees can stay for life, but Joanna Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, said the government wanted to prevent asylum being used as an alternative means of immigration.
“It’s about temporary protection,” she said.
The proposed law was criticised from within Mr Faymann’s own Social Democrat party.
Sonja Wehsely, a senior party member, warned it would create an “integration waiting room” and make it harder for refugees to start new lives in Austria.
The new legislation will also limit the rights of those allowed to stay in the country to bring family members to live with them.
While those given full refugee status will still be allowed to bring their partners and children after one year, there will be new restrictions for those given leave to remain but not granted full asylum.
Photo: Ronald Zak/AP
They will have to wait three years before family members can join them, and prove a sufficient income to support them.
The UN refugee agency warned the changes “could keep families apart for many years, if not forever”.
The new rules on family members are believed to be aimed chiefly at deterring asylum-seekers from Afghanistan.
While those fleeing areas held by the Taliban are generally granted full asylum, Afghans from other parts of the country are often denied refugee status but allowed to stay.
Germany was last month reported to be considering deporting asylum-seekers from areas of Afghanistan considered to be safe.
Austria received 46,000 applications in the first eight months of the year alone, before the height of the refugee crisis.
Initially the country was one of the leading voices in favour of Europe accepting refugees, but the government’s position has hardened in the face of the numbers.
It recently said it would build a fence along part of its border with Slovenia to curb the influx.
The proposed new asylum laws will be put to the Austrian parliament in December.