19 June 2015

Austrian Interior Minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, has recently issued a document instructing civil servants dealing with asylum requests to stop processing new cases, including family reunification cases. New asylum claims will be registered, but no further processing will take place unless they can be returned to another EU country under the Dublin Regulation, whose implementation is to be prioritised. Simultaneously, relevant departments were instructed to focus on deportation and return for rejected asylum seekers. The legal justification offered is that it is a temporary situation guided by the circumstances of the current situation, and despite the suspension, cases will still be processed within ‘a reasonable time’.

Mikl-Leitner indicated that the move was aimed at putting pressure on other EU countries to take greater responsibility for asylum applicants by adopting fixed quotas, in support of the European Commission’s recent proposal, and timed it to take place just ahead of a meeting of interior ministers on 16 June to discuss this issue. She explained that these measures were taken to reduce the attractiveness of Austria for refugees, given that its average processing time for asylum claims of four months, made it one of the fastest countries in the EU: as she described it, the ‘Austria asylum express’. This decision comes at a time where statistics indicate that asylum applications in Austria, in line with the EU-wide trend, are at a record high with an almost 160% increase in applications from January-April 2015 as compared to last year.

Opposition politicians in Austria condemned the move, accusing Mikl-Leitner of ‘abuse of office’, with the Greens doubting its legality, along with the Socialist Youth party calling for it to be annulled. Others called for her resignation.

ECRE member, Asylkoordination, criticises this as a kneejerk reaction. It dismisses the idea of Austria’s ‘fast processing times’ as improbable, given that Austrian migration authorities have not published statistical evidence to back this up for one and a half years. According to the organisation’s experience, asylum claims in Austria often take longer than the 6 months provided for in law, with considerable delays even for unaccompanied minors and Syrian nationals. It predicts that these measures will also strain Austria’s provision of reception conditions.

Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, also commented via Twitter that Austria’s decision was the wrong response to a lack of European solidarity, adding that human rights obligations cannot be waived.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.