Saturday

15th May 2021

Austria curtails asylum rights

  • People seeking international protection in Austria will face tough new laws (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Austria has passed one of Europe's toughest asylum laws, designed to stop inflows of people seeking international protection.

Lawmakers passed the new bill on Wednesday (27 April) amid broader fears over migration that have helped the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) to surge in popularity, with its main candidate taking a surprise lead in presidential elections.

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The law allows the federal government to declare a "state of emergency" and refuse entry to migrants if numbers suddenly rise.

The law is expected to sail through the parliament's upper chamber and come into force by June.

The new measures will give border police the power to turn back asylum seekers including Syrians, denying them the right to have their cases heard.

Those who can convince the police that their lives are in danger or that they risk degrading treatment in a neighbouring country will be allowed to apply for asylum.

Others with immediate family in Austria can also lodge an application but will only be able to rejoin their loved ones after a three-year delay.

Everyone else is turned back in a step similar to that taken by Hungary last year.

'Against history'

Human Rights Watch says the Austrian law risks instituting blanket, automatic detention without due attention to particularly vulnerable asylum seekers.

“These measures constitute a legal wall to asylum just as despicable as a razor-wire fence,” said the NGO's Judith Sunderland.

“Austria should be working with other European Union countries to make sure people have a fair chance to get the protection they need, not taking unilateral decisions to pass asylum seekers around like hot potatoes.”

The legislative push comes amid another controversial move by Austrian authorities to erect a 400m fence and tighten border controls along the Brenner Pass with Italy.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi described the new border restrictions as "shamelessly against European rules, as well as being against history, against logic and against the future".

The EU commission earlier this month warned against the Brenner Pass barrier plan, noting that any internal border control "has to be exceptional and proportionate".

But Austria's interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the new rules and barriers were needed despite the relatively low number of people now entering the country following border clampdowns along the Western Balkan route.

"So many other EU members fail to do their part," he said.

Fears are mounting the Balkan route closure will spur others to take the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy.

In February, Austria imposed a daily cap of 80 asylum applications and restricted migrant entries to 3,200 per day.

The limits drew a sharp rebuke from the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

“Austria has a legal obligation to accept any asylum application that is made on its territory or at its border,” said Avramopoulos in a letter sent in February to Austria's chancellor, Werner Faymann.

Austria received 90,000 asylum applications in 2015.

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