Right of asylum: Austria’s unsettling proposals to member states

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz . Austria currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU [EPA-EFE/FLORIAN WIESER]

According to an article by French daily Le Monde, Austria, which currently holds the  six-month rotating presidency of the EU, sent troubling proposals to EU member states to reform the right of asylum. EURACTIV.fr reports.

**updated with reaction from Austrian government

In a document given to member states and seen by Le Monde, Austria believes that “the EU and the political elites have lost control of the situation” on migration.

The country puts forward an analysis heavily influenced by the governing far-right. Austria believes that migrants are mostly young men “of which many are susceptible to ideologies hostile to freedom or which encourage violence”.

In a controversial move, the document also suggests a reform of asylum policy “which would allow for asylum procedures not to be processed on European soil”.

Austria aims to authorise asylum only to those “who respect the values of the EU and its fundamental rights and freedoms”, by 2025.

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Ideological vision

The text stresses that the Schengen Area’s external borders are not safe. The EU’s external borders are curretnly monitored by 3,000 Frontex agents, a number that will soon increase to 10,000  in accordance with the latest decision following the Council.

Austria does not mention the “controlled centres” agreed upon at the EU summit last week. However, it does insist on outside centers which would manage all asylum applications in the future, a position shared by the four Visegrad countries of Central Europe, which tried to impose the establishment of centres outside the EU to manage migration flows.

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The text as a whole presents a very ideological vision which is contrary to the existing right of asylum aiming to protect human rights.

Austria believes that “because of their origin and lack of prospects, they (migrants) have repeatedly had big problems living in open societies, and even reject them. Among them are a large number of young men with little or no education. Many are especially susceptible to ideologies which are hostile to freedom or which advocate violence. ”

This vision seems to capture the Chancellor’s intentions for Austria’s EU presidency under the heading “A Europe that protects”. This slogan was originally used by German politicians, French president Emmanuel Macron then took it up, but each use of the phrase carries a different meaning. For Austria, it would mean giving up on humanitarian action and on protecting human rights.

Nevertheless, unlike countries in Western Europe, Eastern European countries increasingly share this vision.

Strache explains

When asked if he agreed with the document, Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said “we all have our own way of presenting facts”, but those facts “have been found not only in Austria but in Sweden as well.”

Then, Strache indeed supported the ideas gathered in the document. “When it comes to integration of people coming from other civilisations, from outside Europe, from the Islamic culture, there are deficits in integration,” vice chancellor said.

He argued that this is “due to the level of education of people who come to us, as some of them have not even gone to elementary school”.

This differs from the results of a survey conducted by the Public Employment Service of Austria. The data, gathered by the European Parliament, showed that in 2016, 81% of all refugees reported having completed at least compulsory schooling, 50%, completed high school and 23%, some level of advanced studies. In comparison, 15% of Austrians have had post-secondary education, according to Statistik Austria.

The vice-chancellor insisted the problems for integration are also due to “patriarchal structures” and “values upheld in these cultures,” in line with the controversial text.

“Many of those people are not able or willing to go through the process of integration; they don’t find jobs and therefore, they deride benefits from our system of social welfare. This is something we cannot cope with in the long term,” Strache told the press.

Migrants contribute less to the welfare system but only because they work mainly in low wage industries and occupations, have on average a lower annual income than natives and are the first to be dismissed by companies, as the Report on Labour Migration Austria 2016-17 by the Danube University Krems.

Even so, migrants contributions to and benefits from the social welfare system are often balanced. For instance, “the average duration of unemployment benefit receipt is shorter in the case of migrants as they are not generally able to access long-term benefits,” the report underlines.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also reacted by tinging Strache’s words while supporting the same ideas. “We can never generalise. On average, certain groups find it easier to integrate than others do,” the chancellor pointed out.

“When it comes to group of immigrants coming from Afghanistan or Chechenia, we have significantly other problems,” Kurz said, compare to people moving from Former Yugoslavian countries.

“They import alongside their religion, and they reimport anti-Semitism which then we have to combat. It creates a major challenge,” said the Austrian chancellor, who governs in coalition with the FPO, which has been questioned precisely due to the anti-Semitic attitude of its members.

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