No agreement on quotas as Austria struggles

As refugees continue to cross the border from Hungary into Austria, EU interior ministers have failed to reach unanimous agreement on a plan for binding quotas to relocate 120,000 refugees and take the strain off Greece, Italy, and Hungary.

No agreement on quotas as Austria struggles
Refugees at Westbahnhof station. Photo: Barbara Süss

In Austria, 500 soldiers are being deployed on the Hungarian border on Tuesday, to help police carry out border checks. Soldiers will also be providing humanitarian assistance in other areas of the country.

On Monday night more than 8,000 people were camped out in the border town of Nickelsdorf, hoping to continue their journey on to Vienna. Police said that throughout the day around 20,000 refugees crossed the border into Burgenland, many of whom had been in the Hungarian reception centre at Röszke, which authorities have closed down.

In southern Burgenland, a new hotspot has emerged at the border crossing of Heiligenkreuz in Lafnitztal. Some 4,500 asylum seekers were counted in the surrounding districts of Güssing and Jennersdorf.

'Fined and questioned'

Private convoys and volunteers are continuing to pick up refugees in Burgenland, and drive them back to Vienna to the main train stations – but have been warned to be cautious.

A Swedish man who lives in Austria told The Local that on Monday he picked up a Syrian family in Burgenland – a man, two women, and two babies – and drove them to Vienna but was stopped on the city’s outskirts by police who fined him €70 for not having child seats in his car.

“They removed the family from the car and aggressively questioned us. They threatened to arrest my wife. They told us ‘that we needed to pay for this’,” he said. The police did not allow him to drive the family into central Vienna, and he does not know where they were taken.

Officials at Vienna's Hauptbahnhof station said on Monday that they had reached capacity “with more than 1,000 refugees” camped out there.

Austrian Railways spokesman Michael Brown said on Monday evening that the station would stay open all night long “so that people have at least a roof over their head”. He added that access to the platforms was being controlled and only refugees with a valid train ticket were being allowed to enter the platforms.

Germany’s Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said on Tuesday that refugees should be able to travel from Austria to Germany on special trains. “This would give us the ability to control the trains, as well as their destination,” Dobrindt said.

The EU has agreed to relocate 40,000 migrants from Greece and Italy to other EU states, starting on Tuesday. Germany will take 21.91 percent, and Austria will take 3.03 percent. However, the EU failed to agree on mandatory quotas for a further 120,000 asylum seekers.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary were reportedly among the nations opposed to mandatory quotas.


MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.