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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Kurz: Refugee situation ‘serious’

Austria and Hungary on Saturday warned that if Greece cannot control the flood of refugees arriving from Turkey then the EU should consider reinforcing the borders of their Balkan neighbours.

Kurz: Refugee situation 'serious'
Kurz with the German federal minister for special tasks, Peter Altmaier. Photo: Sandra Steins/German Govt.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, whose country has set a refugee cap of 37,500 for this year, said the European Union did not seem to fully realise “how serious the situation is.”

“I say this very clear — if we do not manage to control the situation… our only option will be to cooperate with Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia,” Kurz said after an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

More than a million migrants, mostly Syrians fleeing their war-torn country, landed in the 28-nation European Union last year, most of them crossing into Greece from Turkey, and then making their way through the Balkans to Germany and other northern member states.

The influx has exposed sharp differences and called into question the future of the Schengen passport-free zone as several countries — among them Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden — have re-introduced border controls.

Despite repeated efforts to halt the inflow, several thousand people a day still make the dangerous trip from Turkey to Greece and an upsurge in fighting in Syria threatens to make the problem even worse.

Foot the bill

Fanning the controversy, Austria media quoted Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling as demanding Brussels foot a bill Vienna estimates at 600 million euros ($670 million) for Austria taking in some 90,000 asylum seekers last year, saying his country could only afford to pay for 35,000.

The Kurier daily reproduced part of a letter to that effect which Schelling sent on January 25 to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The finance ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said separately that the EU was “defenceless from the south.”

“If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone … then we need another defence line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria,” Szijjarto said.

Hungary has taken the lead in calls for erecting a fence along Greece's northern border in the same way it built a razor-wire barrier along its own southern frontier last year.

Athens says it is doing its best but the numbers have overwhelmed the resources of a small country which is also struggling to get its economy back on track after a third debt bailout was agreed last year.

Earlier this week, the EU said Greece had to remedy a series of failings in order to re-establish full control over the border with Turkey and so preserve the Schengen area, prized as one of the bloc's greatest achievements.

If Greece failed to comply, then Brussels could allow other member states to extend border controls for up to two years, an option officials say they want to avoid at all costs.

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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