Republic of Austria
Head of state: Heinz Fischer (until 8 July 2016), then jointly (ad interim) Doris Bures, Karlheinz Kopf, Norbert Hofer
Head of government: Christian Kern (replaced Werner Fayman in May)
The number of asylum claims registered dropped by half compared to the previous year. However, in April Parliament gave the power to the government to rely on an emergency procedure to curtail the number of asylum-seekers in the country. A new law granted far-reaching surveillance and investigative powers to the intelligence agency.
REFUGEES' AND MIGRANTS' RIGHTS
In January, the government announced a cap on the number of asylum applications for 2016 at 37,500. Between January and November, approximately 39,600 people requested asylum in Austria. Almost 32,300 applications were deemed admissible. In the same period in 2015, approximately 81,000 people had requested asylum.
In April, Parliament passed an amendment to the Asylum Act granting the government the power to declare a threat to public order and security when high numbers of asylum-seekers were entering the country. This decree would trigger a fast-track asylum procedure in which border police would determine the admissibility of applications for international protection. Police would also forcibly return asylum-seekers who had crossed the border to neighbouring countries of transit without being required to provide a reasoned justification. Asylum-seekers would only be able to appeal from abroad as the appeals would be non-suspensive. The implementation of the amendment could result in the violation of the principle of non-refoulement and the right to have access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure. At the end of the year, the government had not triggered the procedure.
The amendment also severely limits the possibilities for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to obtain family reunification.
While conditions in some reception centres improved, asylum procedures continued to be inadequate in identifying and assisting persons with specific needs, such as victims of torture, human trafficking, or gender-based violence. Support services, including health care for persons in need of special care, including unaccompanied minors, remained insufficient.
In June, the authorities expressed concern regarding racially motivated attacks on asylum shelters. In the same month, an asylum shelter was set alight before its official opening in the town of Altenfelden. In the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior reported almost as many criminal offences against asylum shelters (24) as for the whole of 2015 (25).
In June, an intersex person filed a complaint following the refusal by the civil registry office in Steyr to register their gender as neutral (neither male nor female). The case was pending before the Administrative Court of Upper Austria at the end of the year.
In August, several authorities, including the Federal Chancellor, expressed support for the right of same-sex couples to marry. However, no legislative amendments were tabled to this effect.
COUNTER-TERROR AND SECURITY
In July, the Police State Protection Act entered into force. The new legislation grants far-reaching surveillance and investigative powers to the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Fight against Terrorism. In particular, the Office can collect and store personal data from a wide variety of sources and launch investigations without informing the affected individuals. The lack of judicial oversight and the discretion with which the Office can exercise its powers raised concerns regarding the respect of the rights to privacy and to an effective remedy, among others.
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