Austrian refugee camp violates children's rights: Amnesty International

An aerial view of the overcrowded refugee centre in Traiskirchen, Austria on Aug 14, 2015.
An aerial view of the overcrowded refugee centre in Traiskirchen, Austria on Aug 14, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

VIENNA (AFP) - Amnesty International on Friday slammed conditions at Austria's main refugee camp as a "disgraceful" violation of human rights, highlighting what it called the "inhumane" plight of more than 1,700 unaccompanied children.

The human rights organisation visited the Traiskirchen camp, 20km south of Vienna, last week, a day after the overcrowded centre stopped accepting new arrivals because of disastrous sanitary conditions.

Built to house 1,800 people, the camp and an adjacent government building are currently home to 4,000 men, women and children.

Of these, around 1,500 do not have a bed, with many minors sleeping in tents outside the camp, in parks or at the local train station.

"The situation of unaccompanied children and adolescents is particularly precarious," Amnesty spokesman Daniela Pichler said at a news conference.

"There is no adequate care for them. They are not sufficiently protected in Traiskirchen and de facto completely left to their own devices."

The damning report came as the European Union declared it was facing its "worst refugee crisis" since World War II, with tens of thousands of people risking their lives to flee violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Austria, the number of asylum requests rose above 28,300 between January and June alone - as many as for the whole of 2014 - and officials expect the total to reach 80,000 this year.

Amnesty said the government could have prevented the crisis at Traiskirchen, but had been too slow to react.

"Austria is neither in financial dire straits nor suffering from a scarcity of resources," said Heinz Patzelt, the secretary general of Amnesty's Austria branch.

"The failure in the care of refugees could have easily been avoided, the blame lies primarily with administrative errors."

Refugees were forced to queue for hours in the blazing sun to register or get food because of inadequate staffing levels and mismanagement of the camp, which is run by a private firm, Amnesty observed.

It also criticised the "inhumane" use of buses as temporary shelters and drew attention to the "unacceptable" sanitary conditions, including blocked toilets and communal mixed showers where women had no privacy.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner acknowledged the crisis at Traiskirchen, but accused the individual Austrian states - responsible for taking in refugees while their applications are being processed - of dragging their feet in providing extra housing.

"A lasting solution is only possible on a... European level," she said.

In May, the European Commission proposed more evenly redistributing asylum-seekers across the 28-member bloc to help countries on the frontline like Italy and Greece.

But many rejected the plan, among them Austria's neighbour Hungary, which instead is building a fence along its border with Serbia, where most of the migrants cross from.

Earlier this week, the Commission confirmed it was providing some 2.4 billion euros (S$3.7 billion) to EU members in migration aid, including 26.5 million euros for Austria.