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IMMIGRATION

Refugees: ‘Austria isn’t what we expected’

An increasing number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo are returning to their countries, saying that they had expected better care and a shorter asylum process in Austria.

Refugees: 'Austria isn't what we expected'
Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas

Figures from the Interior Ministry show that between January and November this year over 1,100 Kosovans left Austria voluntarily. Kosovo is considered to be a safe country of origin and migrants have little chance of obtaining asylum in Austria.

Migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan have a good chance of being registered as asylum seekers but so far 530 people from Iraq have returned home, and 120 from Afghanistan. “This trend has become more noticeable since mid-September,” Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck said.

The Caritas charity confirmed that between September 1st and December 14th 257 Iraqis, 35 Afghans and 53 Iranians flew home – most of whom had been resident in Vienna. In 2014 only two Iraqis, nine Afghans and one Iranian chose to return to their own countries.

“Many are afraid of being deported and the humiliation of that,” Caritas spokesman Martin Gantner said. He added that others are returning because they miss their families, and some had different expectations of what Austria and Europe would be like. “There are so many uncertainties for them here in Austria, many refugees are traumatized and need a sense of security,” he said.

Three Iraqi men in their 20s who spoke to the Kurier newspaper say they plan to fly home on Wednesday after three months in Austria. They are all computer engineers and had hoped to build a better life here. “We wanted peace, freedom and a future,” 23-year-old Muqdad said. He and his friends have been living in emergency refugee accommodation in Vienna’s 3rd district.

“We’ve just been humiliated here,” said Omer. “It was a mistake to come. People look at us here as if we were terrorists, and all we want is peace. Dogs are treated better than refugees in Austria – at least they have something good to eat, and are even given something to wear.”

The Afghan and Iraqi embassies in Vienna have also confirmed that increasing numbers of their citizens are choosing to return to their countries and said that they are issuing travel documents to dozens of people every day. The flights are mainly financed by the Interior Ministry and the EU.

Günter Ecker, the head of Vienna’s human rights association (VMÖ), expects the trend to continue. “Many Iraqis say that they expected better social care here, and many also had a misleading idea of how long the asylum process might take. They didn’t realise that they might have to wait a year or more until their families could join them here.”

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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