Swimming pool withdraws ‘immigrant ban’

A public swimming pool in Mödling, near Vienna, has been forced to withdraw a ban on immigrants after being shamed by a storm of criticism on social media.

Swimming pool withdraws 'immigrant ban'
The protest group at Mödling swimming pool. Photo: Thomas Lenger

A group of Austrians and refugees held a spontaneous ‘swim protest’ at the municipal swimming pool on Sunday evening in response to a notice from the management last week announcing that “people with a migration background” would not be allowed into the pool unless they were accompanied by an “appropriate escort”.

The management said that this was in response to a number of “complaints from guests and staff” about incidents where male refugees had come to the swimming pool without appropriate swimwear and had entered the ladies’ changing room.

Mödling's mayor, Hans-Stefan Hintner (ÖVP), later removed the notice, saying that the text was misleading and was not meant to announce a blanket ban on all immigrants but referred to “a small group of people”.

The manager of the ÖVP in Lower Austria, Bernhard Ebner, defended the notice on Monday, saying that “whoever strives to uphold security and order in public places is in the right”, adding that house rules and laws must apply to all sections of the population.

Around 180 unaccompanied young asylum seekers are currently housed at an asylum centre in Mödling.

A group of around 20 people turned up at the pool on Sunday evening to protest against the notice. One of the organisers, Natalie, told the Kurier newspaper that “this kind of everyday racism cannot be tolerated in the 21st century”.

Mödling local Anna Teichgräber added that “such blatant discrimination is prohibited by law”. Teichgräber is now collecting donations of swimwear for refugees. “One of the things the management complained about was that a few refugees had gone into the pool wearing jogging trousers or underpants, so we hope to avoid this in the future”.

The head of Lower Austria's Socialist Youth party, Julia Jakob, said in a press release that she was “appalled” by the swimming pool's action. “To refuse people because of race, religion or colour is reminiscent of one of the darkest periods in our history.”

Another swimming pool in Bisamberg, also in Lower Austria, has said that asylum seekers will only be allowed into the pool with a “supervisor” after complaints that young male asylum seekers had been “too noisy” and had been going into the ladies' showers – although there were no reports of sexual harassment, local police said.


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.