Vienna — Austria, which is experiencing economic difficulties, has been anx- iously anticipating a wave of requests for political asylum since martial law was clamped on neighboring Poland last Sunday.
At the latest count, there are at least 26,000 Poles already under Austrian care, according to the Monitor's Vienna-based special correspondent, Eric Bourne.
The Austrian authorities have permitted Poles who have left their communist homeland to come to Austria without visas. They are allowed to stay up to three months. They could even take a temporary job if they wished.
After the three-month period, some Poles went home - with enough money earned , they hoped, to put down a cash deposit for a car or a small apartment. Others decided to stay and asked for political asylum.
The dramatic events of the past week are almost certain to increase the numbers of those seeking asylum in Austria.
The Austrians say there are at least another 20,000 Poles in the country at present who are nearing the expiry of their three-month stay. It seems likely that most will not want to go home.
For the Austrians, the prospect of thousands more political refugees will add a considerable burden to the already troubled economy. A short while ago, the Austrian government asked Canada, Australia, and the United States to take more refugees to help lighten the load. The American quota was extended by 2,000, but now both the US and Australia are reportedly bridling at taking more.
Meanwhile, Austria's limited refugee camp facilities - much run down since the mass influx from Hungary in 1956 - are bursting at the seams. The spillover from the one permanent camp, at Traiskirchen, just outside the capital, is spread around a string of small centers, pensions, and private lodgings - all at Austrian expense.
Many of the refugees are sleeping on straw mattresses on floors. The local papers recently reported numerous cases of three to a bed or people still quartered in tents.
The main form of transportation has been the Chopin Express. The train rains daily from Warsaw to Austria. At the height of the exodus - in late November - as many as 360 a day were pouring into Austria.
Only a week ago the Chopin Express rarely had fewer than 200 Poles aboard. But Monday, the day after the imposition of martial law, the train brought only five Poles (all of them with jobs and passports allowing them to live abroad); Tuesday, none; and Wednesday, but two, also domiciled in the West.