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IMMIGRATION

Anger over police chief’s call to build border fence

Updated: Chancellor Angela Merkel joined others in condemning the proposal by a police union chief on Sunday that Germany build a fence to block off its border with Austria.

Anger over police chief's call to build border fence
Refugees from Syria walking near the Austrian border with Germany. Photo: DPA.

Chairman of the German Police Union (DpolG) Rainer Wendt told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Germany should build a fence along its border with Austria.    

“If we close our borders this way, Austria will also close its border with Slovenia, and that's exactly the effect we need,” he said, insisting that Germany could no longer send out the message that everyone was welcome.

“Our internal order is in danger, we are close to social unrest, someone has to pull the emergency brake now,” he said, stressing that the only person who could do so was Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Monday that the Chancellor believed a fence would not do much to stop desperate people from entering the country.

Some members of Merkel's conservative “Union” parties, however, seemed to deviate from the Chancellor's stance. Chairman of the conservative block Christian von Stetten said that considering border fortifications should “not be taboo”, according to Bild.
 
But Wendt's fence suggestion did face criticism from other police unions.

The deputy president of police union GdP criticized Wendt’s plan, saying that Wendt offered “no contribution to solving the problem”, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“The past has shown that border fences do not stop refugees, as authorities have also seen in Hungary,” said GdP’s Jörg Radek.

“A flood of refugees behaves in physics like water: they look for another way in.”

Criticism of Wendt’s proposal also came from the leader of Germany’s third-largest police union, the German Police Union (BDK). The BDK’s head, André Schulz, condemned Wendt’s statements as “unhelpful” in an opinion article for Die Welt.
 
Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate Malu Dreyer also weighed in, saying that such an idea was “unimaginable”.

“The Schengen agreement is such a great boon to Europe that for me it is completely unimaginable that we would actually shut off our borders, as suggested by the union,” Dreyer said on Sunday.

Wendt had previously called for the reintroduction of internal European border controls and demanded more personnel to deal with a record flood of refugees.

Europe has abolished passport controls between 26 countries in the so-called Schengen zone, which incorporates 26 EU members and stretches from Spain to Finland, and also includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

However, police have stepped up spot-checks of travellers on intra-European trains, highways and flights.

Dreyer said that Wendt’s most recent suggestions run “completely and totally” contrary to European ideals.

IMMIGRATION

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.

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