Conditions have become so bad at Austria’s overcrowded refugee reception centre in Traiskirchen that the interior ministry has announced it will be sending 500 asylum seekers to neighbouring Slovakia.

Slovakia to take in 500 refugees

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner stressed that Austria will still be responsible for processing asylum claims but that Bratislava and Vienna will share the accommodation and care costs. “It’s likely to be a cheaper solution for Austria,” she said, adding that the costs of care will not be any higher than they are in Vienna.

The first 50 asylum seekers will move to Slovakia this month, a further 200 in August, and 250 in September, Mikl-Leitner told media on Thursday. They will be housed in accommodation which is around 30km away from the Austrian border. If a refugee receives a positive outcome from their asylum application they will return to Austria.

“With this initiative Slovakia is showing solidarity. It’s a small step, but one which sends a great signal,” Mikl-Leitner said.

Vienna and Bratislava will sign an official agreement in the next few days. The planned cooperation will run for two years, with the possibility of extension. Slovakia’s Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said he was not worried about how the agreement would be viewed in his country, although there would always be people who “are afraid of anything new”.

He added that the cooperation was a kind of payback for Austria’s support of Slovakia ten years ago when it wanted to join the Schengen area. “We’re not just friends on sunny days, but also on rainy days,” he said.

The Traiskirchen reception centre in Lower Austria is currently home to around 3,200 refugees, but some 900 do not have a bed to sleep in. They have been sleeping in corridors or outside in the grounds but fierce storms on Wednesday night meant that the interior ministry had to provide buses for them to shelter in. Traiskirchen was not designed to accommodate more than 480 people.

Vienna and Lower Austria have taken in more than their allotted quota of asylum seekers, but other states have failed to do so and have been strongly criticised.