Ban Ki-moon attacks Austria’s ‘restrictive’ asylum policies

Ban Ki-moon and Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann in 2010 [United Nations]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke in front of the Austrian parliament today (28 April) and called upon the international community to find a solution to the refugee crisis. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Ban Ki-moon’s time in office runs out at the end of this year, so his current tour of Europe could well be his last as UN chief. His first stop is Vienna, which since 1979 has served as one of the UN’s four official seats.

Speaking to the alpine republic’s National Council, Ban Ki-moon shared his concerns about “increasingly restrictive European asylum policies” and made it clear that he does not see a closure of borders or the construction of walls as the right answer to the crisis. “Such policies negatively affect the obligation of member states under international humanitarian law and European law,” he told Austrian politicians.

MEPs urge Juncker to stand against Austria border fence

Leading MEPs have urged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to take a position against Austria’s plans to erect a fence at its border with Italy, at the Brenner pass.

The UN chief, who knows Vienna well from his time as South Korea’s ambassador in the mid-2000s, used his speech to highlight Austria’s excellent record of helping refugees, from the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968 to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. He also praised the country for how it initially dealt with the refugee crisis towards the end of last year, in particular, commending the Austrian people.

However, Ban Ki-moon expressed his fears concering “racism, within and beyond Austria”.

Austria's neighbours fear more border controls

While increased people-trafficking has been recorded in eastern Austria, increased border controls in the west, specifically at the Brenner Pass, continue to be mooted. EURACTIV Germany reports.

He urged European countries to show more solidarity and “more commitment” in the face of a situation that shows little hope of letting up anytime soon. Ki-moon’s words were primarily aimed at those countries that still block or refuse to engage with the EU’s plan to redistribute refugees around the bloc, adding that well-controlled integration could be a “win for all”.

Austria’s presidential election is well under way and the first round of voting saw a substantial win for far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. Although the office of the president is mostly ceremonial, the vote is seen as a litmus test for the general election, which is less than two years away.

Far-right triumphs in first round of Austrian presidential election

Austria’s government was licking its wounds after a historic debacle that saw the opposition anti-immigrant far-right triumph yesterday (24 April) in a presidential ballot two years before the next scheduled general election.

The country’s lawmakers passed a new bill yesterday (27 April) that amended the asylum law, so that police are no allowed to reject asylum seekers at the border, as well as establishing limitations on family reunification. The law must also be passed by Austria’s second chamber, but this is seen as little more than a formality.

Tensions have also been high between Vienna and Rome, as Austria has continually threatened to post troops on the Brenner Pass, which links the two countries. Austria’s new interior minister, Wolfgang Sobotka, travelled to South Tyrol at the beginning of the week to try and bring the Italian region around to Vienna’s way of thinking.

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