Austria corrects wrongly interpreted asylum figures
Just days after Austria’s Interior Ministry announced the country received 19,000 asylum applications between January and April in 2016, the Chancellor has corrected the figure to 11,000.
It means the earlier assumption that Austria would reach its 37,500 cap on asylum applications around September is now unlikely and whether this upper limit would be reached at all is “unclear”.
The reinterpretation of the 19,000 figure comes from the fact that it now does not include those who fall under the Dublin III Regulation, whereby asylum seekers are returned to the first EU country they entered.
It also does not include the relatives of those with subsidiary protection status - which is time limited rather than full refugee status - who have come to join family members in Austria.
The government says this is interpretation it true to the original January agreement on the 37,500 upper limit, which was about the number of asylum applications allowed to proceed rather than initial applications.
The 11,000 figure relates only to those cases that will lead to an application process.
The new figure also has repercussions on whether Austria will implement its controversial new asylum law agreed by parliament last month.
The law gives the government the power to stop taking new asylum requests and turn away most asylum seekers at the border in an emergency situation.
It had been unclear what exactly qualified as an emergency but Chancellor Christian Kern confirmed this week that the country must prepare for an asylum emergency once the upper limit of 37,500 is reached.
Earlier in May, the Interior Ministry announced nearly there had been 19,000 applications between January and April, which implied Austria would likely reached the upper limit it is prepared to take around September.
With the renewed interpretation, Chancellor Kern has now said it is unclear whether the upper limit will be reached this year at all, according to Der Standard.
Some senior government figures have reacted with surprise at the renewed interpretation.
“I had assumed that the earlier collected figures were correct,” said Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil to the ORF, adding that it is important the government maintains credibility and exercises full transparency.
Whether it would be possible to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they arrived in, under the Dublin Regulation, is also unclear.
This regulation broke down - temporarily at least - last summer when millions of asylum seekers and migrants made their way to Europe.
Between January and November last year Austria was able to send back just 1,300 asylum seekers using this procedure.
The government has said this week that asylum seekers who are not accepted by other EU countries under this agreement and therefore must go through the asylum procedure in Austria will be counted in the total figure.
Human rights expert Manfred Nowak, from the University of Vienna, told Der Standard however that the new interpretation does not relieve the government from the responsibility of “using all legal means of applying pressure to achieve a more equitable distribution of refugees in the EU.”