U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Austria
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Austria , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8cf54.html [accessed 23 March 2017]|
|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 1999, Austria hosted about 16,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, according to statistics provided by the Austrian government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These included 3,393 persons granted asylum during the year, 11,084 applicants pending a decision, and 1,600 Kosovo Albanians and 482 Bosnians with temporary protection at year's end.
Asylum seekers filed 20,129 applications for asylum in Austria during 1999, a 46 percent increase from the 13,805 applications filed in 1998, and a 296 percent increase from the 6,791 applications filed in 1997. During the year, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Yugoslavia (6,840), followed by claimants from Iran (3,343), Afghanistan (2,209), and Iraq (2,014).
Of the 6,693 asylum applicants whose cases were adjudicated on their merits in 1999, the Federal Refugee Office granted 3,393 asylum, an approval rate of 50.7 percent, a dramatic increase from the 12.5 percent approval rate in 1998. High approval rates for the large number of Yugoslav applicants, overwhelmingly from Kosovo, accounted for the increase.
The refugee office denied the claims of 3,300 applicants during the year, finding 470 "manifestly unfounded." It also closed the cases of 10,941 asylum applications during 1999.
1999 was a year of contradictions for asylum seekers and refugees in Austria. While Austria on the whole responded generously to the needs of Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers, others received less favorable treatment. The year also saw the best showing ever for Austria's far-right Freedom Party, whose central theme was an appeal to stop "overforeignization." In October elections, the Freedom Party won 27.2 percent of the vote, becoming Austria's second largest political party. According to a study published in December, the electoral success of the Freedom Party was largely attributable to the crossover of traditionally Social Democratic voters who felt that the then-ruling Social Democratic Party did not take the problem of foreigners "seriously enough."
The Asylum Procedure
Austria's asylum procedure is governed by the 1997 Asylum Act, which entered into force on January 1, 1998.
The Federal Refugee Office (hereafter "refugee office"), an agency within the Interior Ministry, is responsible for making first-instance decisions on asylum applications. Asylum seekers may appeal negative decisions to the independent Federal Asylum Review Board, and further appeals with Austrian administrative courts are possible.
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.
Asylum seekers who cannot support themselves receive housing, basic health care, and modest stipends. Recognized refugees receive long-term residence permits, the right to work, and integration assistance.
Barriers to Asylum
The 1997 asylum law maintains that applicants arriving from "safe third countries" (countries the asylum seeker transited where he or she could have requested and received protection) are not admissible to the asylum procedure. Austria considers third countries as safe for the return of asylum seekers if they: are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; have established asylum procedures, including an appeals procedure; grant returning asylum seekers access to that procedure; and allow them to remain safely in the country pending the outcome of their status determinations.
An amendment to the asylum law, effective on January 1, authorizes the Austrian Interior Minister to draw up a list of both safe and unsafe third countries, although no such list was created during the year. Nevertheless, the Austrian government generally regarded all of its neighbors to be safe third countries in 1999, which, in the cases of Hungary and Slovakia, grew controversial as the year progressed.
In a January 26 decision, Austria's High Administrative Court ruled that Hungary could not automatically be considered a safe third country. The court found that Austrian authorities must take into account not only Hungarian laws relating to asylum but also Hungary's actual practices in gauging whether or not it is safe to return asylum seekers. By insisting on the individual review of safe third country cases, the court ruling also called into question whether a safe third country list would be legally permissible. Nevertheless, Austria continued to return asylum seekers including Kosovo Albanians to Hungary on safe third country grounds during the rest of the year.
At the end of June, Austria's Federal Appeals Board ruled that the authorities cannot consider the Slovak Republic as a safe third country because returning asylum seekers do not have access to Slovakia's asylum procedure.
Austria removed 437 asylum seekers on safe third country grounds in 1999.
The asylum amendment that became effective on January 1 also extended from 2 to 10 days the deadline to file an appeal for applicants denied in Austria's accelerated asylum procedure. 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 see Chart). and applicants whose cases are considered manifestly unfounded are subject to the accelerated procedure. The extension of the filing deadline followed a July 1998 ruling by Austria's Constitutional Court, which found the previous 48-hour deadline to file an appeal unconstitutional.
Austria's 1997 asylum law also created an accelerated airport procedure. Although the law gave UNHCR the power to refer negative decisions in airports to the normal asylum procedure, the procedure has not functioned as originally intended. UNHCR said that the 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. An amendment to the airport procedure, also effective on January 1, appeared to offer legal backing to this approach by explicitly stating that UNHCR's involvement in case assessments is only required for applicants whose cases are decided at airports.
Detention and Deportation
Human rights groups, church organizations, and politicians sharply criticized Austria's detention and deportation practices during 1999.
These groups and individuals, including the Austrian government's Minister for Family and Youth, were particularly critical of Austria's detention of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. Austrian Interior Minister Karl Schloegl reported that as of July 1 Austrian authorities were detaining 20 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers five younger than age 16, and one younger than 14 years of age. Earlier, in February, Schloegl defended Austria's policy of detaining minors, saying it was the only way to ensure their eventual deportation. About 400 unaccompanied minors reportedly apply for asylum annually in Austria.
Austrian detention practices also separated families during the year. In most cases, authorities arrested the male head of household, often depriving his wife and children of a source of income. Nine foreign detainees reportedly attempted suicide during the first six months of 1999.
The death of a rejected Nigerian asylum seeker which occurred during his expulsion from Austria to Bulgaria on May 1 also focused considerable criticism on Austrian deportation methods. During the Nigerian man's deportation, Austrian police had bound his hands and feet and taped his mouth shut to silence his screaming on board the aircraft. Believing the man had merely lost consciousness during the flight, his Austrian police escort did nothing to revive or aid the deportee until the plane landed in Sofia. The police called a doctor when they could not revive the deportee, but the Nigerian had already died. Although a Bulgarian doctor determined suffocation to be the cause of death, an Austrian doctor who performed a second autopsy reported the man suffered a severe heart attack as a result of the stress brought on by his deportation. Two of the three police officers escorting the Nigerian asylum seeker were immediately suspended, but a full investigation into the case remained pending at year's end.
Although the Interior Ministry temporarily suspended deportations of rejected asylum seekers expected to resist efforts to remove them, it resumed such deportations in late June with some policy changes. On June 30, Interior Minister Schloegl announced that those expected to resist deportation would be removed only via chartered aircraft and that properly trained professionals would accompany them. The new regulations also prohibited the use of gags and stipulated that deportees would undergo medical examinations within 24 hours of departure.
Austria reportedly reached agreements with Switzerland and Germany in July and September, respectively, to carry out group deportations by air.
In April 1998, Austria also began full implementation of the Schengen Convention (see Chart). To fulfill Convention'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.
Austria arrested about 40,000 persons attempting to enter the country clandestinely in 1999, more than double the 19,653 arrested in 1998. In 1999, the Austrian government often called on its neighbors to the east to tighten their border controls, saying that it considered harmonized border control standards and visa policies as a precondition for EU enlargement.
As Serbia stepped up its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo during the spring of 1999, Austria's treatment of Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers and refugees dramatically shifted. As late as the end of March, Austrian interior minister Schloegl remained steadfast in his refusal to grant temporary protection to rejected Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers, as well as Kosovars holding a variety of other statuses. The Austrian government soon relented, however, passing a decree on April 27 that granted temporary protection to certain groups of Kosovars. These included asylum seekers who had arrived in Austria before April 15 and were unable to find protection elsewhere and Kosovo Albanians who arrived after April 15, had close relatives in Austria, and were unable to find protection elsewhere.
Between April and June, Austria also evacuated about 5,100 Kosovars from camps in Macedonia, who were also granted temporary protection under the April 27 decree. All told, an estimated 5,500 Kosovo Albanians received temporary protection during the year.
Kosovars also had considerable success obtaining asylum in 1999. Some 86 percent (2,926 persons) of all those who received asylum during the year were Yugoslav nationals, overwhelmingly Albanians from Kosovo. The approval rate for Yugoslav nationals was 68 percent in 1999.
The high approval rate for Kosovo Albanians resulted at least in part from decisions by the Federal Asylum Review Board (in April) and the High Administrative Court (in June), finding that Kosovo Albanians as a group were at risk of persecution. Although the Austrian Interior Ministry temporarily suspended decision-making on Kosovar asylum cases on March 25, it resumed adjudications on April 19.
While temporary protection for Kosovo Albanians was initially set to expire at the end of 1999, the Austrian government later extended their status until March 31, 2000. Austria also agreed to allow certain humanitarian cases to remain until July 31, 2000.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 3,524 Kosovars to repatriate in the second half of 1999. No figures were available for spontaneous returns. About 1,600 Kosovo Albanians with temporary protection remained in Austria at year's end.