The courses are designed to determine what skills asylum seekers have and are held in their mother tongues – mostly Russian, French, Arabic and Farsi. Whilst the courses for Russian and French speakers are mixed gender, the Arabic and Farsi courses have been split into one for men and one for women.
Kurz said that whilst the competency checks are “meaningful and positive” it is a “big mistake” and “absurd” to separate men and women from Middle Eastern countries. He added that the move goes against Austria’s fundamental values and sends the wrong message to refugees.
“If we let this happen, it becomes harder later on to explain why this isn’t part of the culture here,” he said. He added that equal rights for men and women is at the heart of Austrian society and should not be called into question, especially when Austria is trying to integrate refugees.
Separate courses for men and women is a result of “misconceived tolerance” he said, adding that if refugees do not respect Austrian laws their social benefits will be cut.
AMS head Petra Draxl defended the approach and said it was part of an “innovative project”. She told ORF radio that from a woman’s perspective it was a sensible idea, as women from the Middle East region generally have completely different work experience than men, and that it makes sense to set specific priorities for women.
“The group dynamics don’t work well together, when you’re mixing mechanics and electricians with teachers and nurses,” she said. She added that male groups would still be taught by female instructors.
She said the decision to hold separate courses was not prompted by the fact that men had said they did not want to attend a course with women, and that to her knowledge this had never happened before.
Around 20,000 job seekers who are recognised refugees were registered in Austria in October, about two-thirds of them in Vienna.
Social Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said that he thought that at the beginning of the integration process it was acceptable to have single sex courses for refugees from the Middle East but that it “must be made very clear that life here is different.”