U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Austria
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Austria , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8b18.html [accessed 30 August 2016]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
At the end of 1998, Austria hosted about 16,500 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 500 persons granted asylum during the year, about 6,600 applicants pending a decision, some 3,725 Yugoslavs denied asylum but nevertheless in need of protection, and about 5,700 Bosnian refugees still in need of a durable solution.
Asylum seekers filed some 13,805 applications for asylum in Austria during 1998, more than double the 6,791 applications filed in 1997. During the first 10 months of the year, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Yugoslavia (5,193), followed by claimants from Iraq (1,590) and Iran (659).
Of the 3,991 asylum applicants who received a merits decision on their cases in 1998, the Federal Refugee Office (hereafter refugee office) granted 500 asylum, an approval rate of 12.5 percent. The refugee office discontinued 4,612 asylum applications during the year, in most cases, because the claimant disappeared.
Austrian interior minister Karl Schlögl attributed the rise in asylum applications in 1998 to several factors, including the crisis in Kosovo, Austria's new asylum law, its higher refugee recognition rate, and Austria's geographical position in the center of Europe.
The Asylum Procedure
Amendments to Austria's asylum and aliens laws entered into force on January 1, 1998. Adopted in 1997 in response to mounting criticism for its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and the need for domestic legislation to implement the Schengen and Dublin conventions, the new laws drew a mixed reaction from NGOs and UNHCR in Austria. Refugee advocates welcomed some of the legal changes, but viewed others as little improvement, or even a deterioration, from Austria's 1991 asylum law (effective in 1992), which received wide criticism for failing to meet international standards of refugee protection.
Of the asylum changes, the safe third country law and the newly constructed accelerated procedure drew the most criticism in 1998. Like the old law, the 1997 asylum amendment maintains that applicants arriving from safe third countries (countries the asylum seeker transited where he or she could request and receive protection, according to Austria) are not admissible to the asylum procedure.
Although Austria claims to gauge the safety of returning asylum seekers to third countries individually, in practice it has viewed all of its neighbors to be safe third countries. Another amendment to the asylum law adopted in December 1998 authorizes the Austrian interior minister to draw up a list of safe third countries, giving further rise to doubts concerning the individual review process.
Responding to strong NGO and UNHCR protests, Austrian authorities backed off plans to deport a group of 40 Iraqi asylum seekers to Slovakia on safe third country grounds. In May, UNHCR recommended that Austria not consider the Slovak Republic and Hungary as safe third countries. UNHCR also recommended that Austria carefully review the individual cases of asylum seekers whom it proposed to deport to the Czech Republic and Slovenia on safe third country grounds.
Despite UNHCR's views and several decisions by Austria's newly established Federal Appeals Board that questioned the safety of removing applicants to Hungary, Austrian authorities continued to deport asylum seekers – including Kosovo Albanians, Iraqis, and Afghans – to Hungary on safe third country grounds during the year.
In addition to its immediate neighbors, Austria in the past has considered such countries as Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Congo-Brazzaville, Tajikistan, Ghana, northern Iraq (considered an internal flight alternative for all Iraqis), Niger, and Jordan as safe for the return of asylum seekers without a merits hearing.
Criticism also focused on the new asylum amendment's accelerated procedure for safe third country and manifestly unfounded applications in 1998. According to the new law, applicants deemed inadmissible on safe third country grounds or because another member state of the European Union (EU) is responsible for reviewing the application (under the Dublin Convention), and applicants whose cases are rejected as manifestly unfounded, had 48 hours to file an appeal.
The Austrian Constitutional Court agreed to review the accelerated procedure in response to UNHCR and NGO concerns that it did not afford applicants adequate due process. In a July 9 decision, the court found the 48-hour deadline to file an appeal unconstitutional, ruling that asylum seekers are entitled to at least seven days. In December, the Austrian government adopted a 10-day filing deadline.
The results of the 1997 asylum amendment in other areas were mixed, according to UNHCR and NGOs. The work of the newly established independent federal board of asylum appeals received the approval of UNHCR and NGOs during the year.
However, UNHCR reported that a new airport procedure that was intended to give UNHCR the power to refer negative decisions in airports to the normal procedure was not functioning properly. UNHCR said that authorities circumvented UNHCR review by admitting most asylum seekers arriving by air into Austria, but then denying their cases as manifestly unfounded once in the country. In other cases where UNHCR referred asylum applicants to the normal asylum procedure over the objection of the airport authorities, UNHCR said that the Federal Refugee Office often disregarded its opinions on cases, denying them as manifestly unfounded.
The new asylum legislation grants provisional residency rights to applicants in the normal asylum procedure. However, under certain circumstances, asylum seekers with a provisional residence permit still may be detained during the asylum procedure to ensure their deportation if denied asylum. Asylum seekers who enter Austria illegally and are channeled into the accelerated procedure do not have provisional residency rights.
Dublin and Schengen
On October 1, 1997, Austria began implementing the Dublin Convention, an EU agreement that establishes a mechanism for determining the member state responsible for adjudicating an asylum request. Generally, Dublin holds that the EU country that permits an asylum seeker entry, or the first EU country of arrival in the event of illegal entry, is responsible for examining the asylum request. Similar to safe third country applicants, asylum seekers arriving from other EU member states are considered inadmissible to Austria's asylum procedure and sent back to those countries. However, in the event that the asylum seeker traveled through a safe third country before entering the EU, a 1992 EU resolution on asylum directs member states to seek the return of the asylum seeker to the safe third country before invoking the terms of the Dublin Convention.
On April 1, 1998, Austria also began full implementation of the Schengen Convention, a multilateral accord paving the way for eliminating border controls between participating member states. To fulfill Schengen's requirements, Austria has sharply increased surveillance of its external borders with the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, and Slovenia to prevent unauthorized migrants, including asylum seekers, from entering the country. The Schengen Convention also establishes a system of common visas and data exchange on asylum seekers and other foreigners.
Austria arrested 19,653 persons attempting to enter the country clandestinely in 1998, nearly a 50 percent increase from the 13,173 arrests the previous year. Of the 1998 arrests, smugglers reportedly assisted some 10,100 (51 percent) in their attempt to enter Austria. Authorities made the most arrests along Austria's border with Hungary.
Austria has signed readmission agreements with Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovenia, and the Slovak Republic. A new readmission agreement with Hungary entered into force in February. These agreements do not refer to asylum seekers and refugees, but to foreigners in general. Austria also has signed a bilateral protocol with Romania that applies solely to the return of nationals of both states.
Some 6,600 Yugoslav asylum seekers, mostly ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, applied for asylum in Austria during 1998. On September 30, Austria's Protestant and Catholic churches criticized their government's treatment of Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers, focusing particularly on what they saw as poor decision making in the asylum procedure. The Austrian authorities reportedly justified denying protection to many Kosovo Albanians, arguing that the conflict in Kosovo did not threaten all Kosovars and that the probability of being individually targeted was relatively slim. For those with protection concerns, the authorities reportedly invoked the concept of internal flight alternative, submitting that the individuals concerned could, and thus should, have sought protection elsewhere in Kosovo or the rest of Yugoslavia.
Austria did not grant temporary protection to Kosovo Albanians in 1998 and continued to deport Kosovars to Hungary on safe third country grounds during the year.
In November, UNHCR estimated that about 5,700 Bosnian refugees still in need of a durable solution remained in Austria. Austria ended financial support for some 3,100 Bosnian refugees on July 31, 1998. In August, the Austrian government announced that it would offer financial assistance to Bosnians willing to repatriate. The Austrian interior ministry said that it would give 20,000 Austrian shillings ($1,600) to each repatriating Bosnian and an equal amount to the Bosnian municipalities where refugees return. The Austrian government reported that it continued to provide financial support to 1,716 Bosnians at the end of 1998.