Austrian president defends ‘welcoming culture’ for refugees

Vienna, Feb 16 (IANS) Austrian President Heinz Fischer defended a “welcoming culture” toward asylum seekers, saying it was not rolling out the red carpet but giving encouraging words to refugees, the media reported on Monday.

While addressing a Catholic church function at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna on Monday, Fischer said he is displeased that some quarters used the concept of a welcoming culture to give the impression that refugees are “being treated as luxury tourists whom Austria is inviting and rolling out the red carpet,” Xinhua news agency reported.

This was not the case in Austria, Germany, or anywhere else, he noted, adding it was much better to give a frightened refugee child some encouraging words rather than to ignore or behave in a hostile manner.

“What many refugees are experiencing on the way from bombed Syrian cities to refugee camps and detention centres in Central Europe is probably unknown to those very people who criticise a ‘welcoming culture’,” the president said.

He also indirectly criticised some European Union countries, arguing that debate over the crisis must not lead to “eyes, ears, hearts, and borders” being closed to refugees nor the right to asylum negated, which he mentioned some European countries are doing at the expense of others.

Tens of thousands of refugees have flocked to Europe from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.

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