* Numbers of asylum seekers down on last year
* Brussels, rights groups criticised cap
VIENNA Dec 13 Austria said on Tuesday its
contentious cap on asylum seekers wold not be breached, as the
number of new arrivals had dropped dramatically since last year,
letting it sidestep a confrontation with the European Union.
Brussels had argued that the limit on the number of asylum
seekers Austria would accept broke the bloc's rules, already
badly stretched by the migration crisis, and pandered to growing
The lower-than-expected figure of new arrivals means Austria
will now not have to trigger even tougher immigration
restrictions that had angered rights groups.
"The number of people granted access to the asylum process
will not reach 37,500 this year," the Interior Ministry said in
a statement, referring to the number set in this year's cap.
Austria's centrist government, facing a growing challenge
from the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, announced the limit -
fewer than half the 90,000 asylum seekers taken in last year -
It also agreed tougher border controls with its neighbours
that largely shut the Balkan route from Greece into Europe.
The migration crisis, which saw more than a million people
reach Europe last year, opened deep rifts between EU states,
which are trading blame and increasingly resorting to ad-hoc
national solutions despite Brussels' calls to prevent them.
Austria built a 4-km barrier with a managed entry point on
its border with Slovenia when the flow of migrants shifted
towards that frontier, and it has said it will erect one at the
Brenner crossing with Italy if needed.
Austria's asylum process had processed just 32,295 claims by
the end of November, the ministry said. A lower cap of 35,000
claims will apply next year.
Tougher restrictions brought in after a breach in the cap
would have seen unsuccessful applicants turned away at the
border, breaching EU rules on asylum and free movement.
"Breaking EU law openly would have been a huge embarrassment
for Austria," said a spokesman for Austria's Catholic Caritas
charity, which works with refugees and asylum seekers.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Kirsti Knolle and Shadia
Nasralla; Editing by Andrew Heavens)