VIENNA Austria will step up deportations of migrants and is adding Morocco, Algeria and other states to a list of countries it deems safe, enabling it to send people back there more quickly, government ministries said on Sunday.
Austria and neighbouring Germany threw open their borders in September to hundreds of thousands of people who poured into Europe, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Despite an initial outpouring of sympathy for the migrants, public concern about the influx have fuelled a rise in support for the far right in Austria, and opposition to the coalition government of Social Democrats and conservatives has grown.
In an apparent move to address those concerns, the government announced this month that it would cap the number of asylum claims at 127,500, or 1.5 percent of the country's population, over the next four years.
Now the government has decided to carry out at least 50,000 deportations in the same period, according to a summary of an agreement between the interior, defence and integration ministries published on Sunday.
It will also offer up to 500 euros ($542) to migrants whose asylum applications have been turned down if they agree to be deported, the summary said.
"We are already among the countries with the most deportations," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in a statement. "But we will increase the rate further."
As a joint European solution to the crisis has faced opposition and delays, Vienna has increasingly said it will act alone to bring down the number of migrants reaching its border if it has to.
Facing similar pressures, senior German conservatives sought at the weekend to reassure Germans, saying migrant numbers would have to go down and criminal refugees could be deported.
By adding new states to its list of "safe countries of origin", Austria will be able to send people from those states back under an accelerated process in which a ruling is reached in days rather than months, Mikl-Leitner said.
"We are declaring Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia safe countries of origin," she said. The summary of the plan stated that Georgia, Mongolia and Ghana were also being added.
The country is also considering using its C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft for deportations, Mikl-Leitner said.
Last year's number of deportations was 8,365, compared with roughly 90,000 asylum claims.
The plan did not say where the deportation flights would be to. Most of last year's flights were to Kosovo, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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