U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Austria
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||10 June 2002|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Austria , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c13f10.html [accessed 23 June 2017]|
At the end of 2001, Austria hosted about 10,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 1,113 persons granted asylum during the year and 205 individuals granted protection against deportation. Of 15,187 applicants awaiting first-instance decisions on their applications, at least 9,500 were in Austria, while an unknown number awaited the outcome of applications filed at Austrian embassies abroad.
Asylum seekers filed 30,135 applications for asylum in Austria during 2001, a nearly 65 percent increase from the 18,284 applications filed in 2000. Applications from Afghans, which tripled in number from the previous year, accounted for most of the overall increase. In addition to the 12,957 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, the largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Iraq (2,113), followed by Turkey (1,876), India (1,804), and Yugoslavia (1,649).
Of the 4,756 asylum applicants who received merits decisions on their cases in 2001, the Federal Refugee Office (hereafter "refugee office") granted 1,113 asylum, an approval rate of 23 percent, up from the 17 percent approved in 2000. Among the countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (56 percent), Iraq (27 percent), and Yugoslavia (24 percent).
The refugee office denied 3,643 claims during the year, 664 as manifestly unfounded. The authorities also closed the cases of 14,436 asylum seekers who abandoned their asylum claims.
Afghan Asylum Seekers
Of the 30,135 new asylum applications lodged with the Austrian government in 2001, 12,957, or 43 percent, were from Afghans. Of these, 5,367 were filed at Austrian diplomatic missions abroad, mostly in Iran and Pakistan. At the onset of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Afghanistan in early October, the Austrian government suspended processing of Afghan asylum claims, asserting that it was impossible to assess the situation in Afghanistan reliably. However, processing was restarted again in November.
Of the 746 merits decisions rendered on Afghan asylum applications during the year, 420 were approved (56.3 percent).
The majority of the claims filed in Iran and Pakistan were turned down on the grounds that Iran and Pakistan are considered safe third countries for Afghans. No figures were available on the number of Afghans who received temporary protection in Austria in 2001.
The Asylum Procedure
Austria's asylum procedure is governed by the 1997 Asylum Act.
The procedure grants provisional residency rights to asylum applicants. However, under certain circumstances, asylum seekers with a provisional residence permit still may be detained during the 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. Unaccompanied minor asylum seekers are entitled to the assistance of a guardian, such as a representative from a youth welfare office.
The 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.
Recognized refugees receive long-term residence permits and the right to work, and are eligible for integration assistance. Asylum seekers denied refugee status can be granted protection against deportation for up to one year, with the possibility of extension.
The 1997 asylum law maintains that applicants who arrive from safe third countries (countries asylum seekers transited where, according to Austria, they 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 asylum seekers to remain safely in the country pending the outcome of their status determinations.
The refugee office generally considers most of Austria's eastern neighbors – Slovenia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – to be safe third countries. However, the Federal Asylum Review Board has periodically overturned refugee office decisions made on safe-third-country grounds. In February 2000, a High Administrative Court ruling determined that the Slovak Republic could not be considered a safe third country.
Applicants denied asylum in Austria's accelerated procedure have ten days to file an appeal. Applicants deemed inadmissible on safe-third-country grounds or because another European Union (EU) member state is responsible for reviewing the application under the Dublin Convention (see box, p. 190) and applicants whose cases are considered manifestly unfounded are subject to the accelerated procedure. In 2001, the Austrian government denied refugee status in 312 cases based on the Dublin Convention.
Austria's 1997 asylum law also created an accelerated airport procedure. Under the law, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the power to refer negative decisions in airports to the normal asylum procedure, a process that the refugee agency has confirmed works as intended.
Assistance and Accommodation
Under the Federal Care Provisions Act of 1991, asylum seekers are, in principle, given accommodation, basic health care, and modest stipends if they are unable to care for themselves. However, in practice, only about one-third of asylum seekers receive federal care. Many are excluded from state assistance for various reasons, including lack of identity papers or for having committed a criminal offense. Asylum seekers ineligible for federal care often must rely on increasingly overburdened religious and charitable organizations for their basic needs. In 2001, UNHCR sharply criticized the Austrian government for failing to accommodate asylum seekers adequately, charging that between 50 and 100 asylum seekers were forced to sleep outside – sometimes in freezing temperatures – every week.
Detention and Deportation
In a decision made public in January, the High Administrative Court ruled that asylum seekers may not be deported while their applications are still pending. While welcoming the decision, refugee advocates pointed out that the ruling only protects applicants in the first-instance appeal procedure, since higher appeals against negative asylum decisions – to Austria's High Administrative Court or Constitutional Court – are not considered part of the asylum procedure.
In October, three policemen were charged with "torture leading to death" in the 1999 case of a rejected Nigerian asylum seeker who suffocated to death during his deportation. The trial for the officers, who bound and gagged the asylum seeker, then placed a tight strap over his chest before his flight from Vienna, will begin in spring 2002.
In August, Austria's Human Rights Advisory Council, which was established following the Nigerian's death and includes representatives of the Interior Ministry and nongovernmental organizations, criticized detention conditions for asylum seekers in Austria. The council found that medical and psychological assistance to detainees was not always adequate, and that a lack of interpreters compounded the problems.
Austria has signed readmission agreements with Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Switzerland. 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.
In May, Austria and the Czech Republic agreed to form a joint force to combat illegal migration between the two countries. Austria also signed an agreement in July with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia to cooperate in fighting organized crime, regulating border traffic, and coordinating asylum issues.
In 2000, the Aliens Act was amended to include a provision that imposed penalties on people who assist illegal immigrants, even if the assistance is provided for humanitarian reasons. Under the amendment, a person can face criminal charges for providing aid, such as an apartment rental, to an immigrant who lacks a valid residence permit, or for soliciting the services of a trafficker to help bring a refugee into Austria from a region in conflict.
In October, a ruling by the Austrian Constitutional Court challenged the government's policy of imposing sanctions on carriers that transport third-country nationals lacking valid documentation to Austria. Declaring the provisions of the 1997 Aliens Act that impose financial penalties on carriers for undocumented passengers (about $1,296 per passenger, or 1,453 euros) to be null and void, the court ruled that the obligations to which carriers are held, outlined in the Aliens Act, are not adequately specific and thus violate Austria's Constitution. The court also noted that the provisions do not specify whether or how carriers should comply with Austria's commitments as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. The government reportedly began preparing new legislation that will address the court's concerns.