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Possible charges for refugee convoy activists

Austrian activists who took part in a “refugee convoy” and drove cars into Hungary to pick up refugees and help them reach Austria and Germany could face criminal charges of people smuggling, according to a report in Der Standard newspaper.

Possible charges for refugee convoy activists
Volunteers drove to collect refugees who were stuck in Hungary. Photo: APA

Der Standard reports that at least three people who took part in the convoy on September 6th are the subject of an investigation by the Vienna public prosecutor’s office. Around 150 cars were driven to Budapest and Györ in Hungary, where they picked up refugees and drove them back to Austria for no charge.

The Linz public prosecutor is investigating another citizen initiative to help refugees – an online platform called ‘fluchthelfer.in’ which was launched in Germany and gives people tips on how to help refugees without facing prosecution. The site’s owners could face charges of encouraging people to commit crimes and disobey the law, and if convicted they would face a maximum of two years in prison. Authorities in Germany are also looking into the case.

Michael Platzer, an envoy of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), said at a meeting at the Institute of Criminology in Vienna that the state is forcing people to break the law as it has made legal passage for refugees impossible.

He argued that the law regarding people smuggling should be abolished, as it only serves “to drive smugglers’ prices up”. Recent proposals to tighten asylum laws in Austria – which would make it harder for family members to join recognised refugees – will drive more people into the arms of people smugglers, he added.

Vienna defence lawyer Joseph Phillip Bischof believes that the law is often used to disproportionately punish people. It states that someone is guilty of people smuggling if they have benefited from transporting someone, “but this could be something as small as an invitation to lunch” Bischof said.

However, Gerald Tatzgern, head of the government’s Anti-Smuggling Unit said that his department is only “concerned with the serious cases” and that the priority is to protect refugees.

Criminal law expert Andreas Schloenhardt told Der Standard that many people smugglers are in fact just doing what the government should be doing – giving refugees safe passage. He is in favour of targeted resettlement and the establishment of UN-supervised transit camps.

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Tell us: What was your experience like dealing with Vienna’s MA35?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna is for many immigrants their first encounter with Austrian bureaucracy. We want to hear from you about your own experience dealing with officials and the process.

Tell us: What was your experience like dealing with Vienna's MA35?

Vienna’s MA35 is a well-known office for immigrants in Austria, particularly those who live in the capital. It has received plenty of criticism for long delays, mistakes and even mistreatment of those seeking services from renewing a visa to applying for Austrian citizenship.

Yet, it is an integral part of life for immigrants and their family members, as the office is responsible for residence permits (from visas to the Anmeldebescheiningung for EU citizens), naturalisation applications and more. In short: there is no escaping it.

So, we want to hear from you: What has been your experience and importantly do you have any advice for others?

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