15 April 2016

After Denmark and Sweden, it is now Austria’s turn to reduce the space for international protection and to make its environment less and less welcoming for refugees and asylum seekers. Two months after introducing a daily and yearly cap to the number of asylum claims the country will accept – which provoked a domino effect along the Balkan route leading in practice to its closure and to tens of thousands of people stranded at the Greek border with FYROM – the country is now in a rush to vote a change to its asylum law which would overhaul its asylum system completely.

The Austrian Parliament will vote later this month on an amendment to the Asylum Act which would, according to many organisations – including ECRE members Asylkoordination and Diakonie – effectively abolish the right to asylum in the country. The amendment will introduce a new procedure at the border which allows for asylum applications to be immediately rejected if the person has arrived irregularly on the Austrian territory. Austria will only accept claims from refugees who are in danger in a neighbouring transit country or who have family members already residing in Austria, effectively derogating from the 1951 Refugee Convention and from EU law.

ECRE member asylkooordination criticised the proposed amendment as an assault on human rights standards: “The arrival of about 90,000 asylum-seekers last year has caused several shortcomings and stress on the asylum system, but we are not facing a situation of emergency that would allow the Austrian government to ignore international law”.

In another development this week, Austria has started the construction of a concrete border post at its southern Brennero border crossing with Italy, foreseeing an increase in arrivals to its southern neighbour and in an early attempt to stop any possible crossings into Austria. The move has been strongly condemned by Italian authorities, who believe that it is not in line with the general principles of the Schengen agreement.  

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.