The UN refugee agency has warned that Austria is in danger of breaking a decades-old tradition of helping those in need, after Vienna moved a step closer to potentially shutting its borders to migrants.

"Since World War II, Austria has always adhered to the tradition of protecting refugees. Access to the asylum process has always been a matter of course," said Christoph Pinter, head of UNHCR in Austria.

But the new plans "would represent the breaking of a taboo and a retreat from the protection of refugees," Pinter said in a statement.

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