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Austria’s far-right interior minister provokes outrage with call to ‘concentrate’ migrants

Austria's new far-right interior minister sparked an outcry Thursday by saying that his government wants to "concentrate" asylum-seekers, employing a word widely associated with Nazi camps.

Austria's far-right interior minister provokes outrage with call to 'concentrate' migrants
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (R) hands over the letter of appointment to Interior Minister Herbert Kickl during the inauguration ceremony of the new government in December. Photo: AFP

Herbert Kickl told a news conference he wants “basic services centres, suitable infrastructure that enables us to concentrate people in the asylum process in one place”.

The comments quickly provoked outrage, with Alexander Pollak, head of migrants charity SOS Mitmensch, calling it a “deliberate provocation” and left-wing essayist Robert Misik saying “a Rubicon has been crossed”.

The opposition Green Party warned against the “language of National Socialism creeping into our way of thinking and feeling”, while the NEOS party said Kickl must apologise for his “deliberate provocation”.

Kickl, who became interior minister last month when his Freedom Party (FPÖ) formed a coalition with the centre-right following elections in October, back-peddled, saying he did not “intend to provoke anyone”.

He said the government would implement a “very, very strict asylum policy” in response to what he said was a rise in crimes committed by foreigners last year.

The head of the FPÖ, Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, also caused unease this month by appearing to suggest that asylum-seekers should be kept in empty military barracks and subject to an evening curfew.

The party was formed by former Nazis in the 1950s. In the 1990s it was headed by Jörg Haider, whose many controversial comments included calling Hitler's employment methods “orderly”.

On Wednesday, Austria's main Jewish Religious Community (IKG) organisation said that it would continue to shun any contact with the FPÖ, including with government ministers from the party.

 

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Austria’s Kurz backs Merkel rejection of far right

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Friday said it was "right" for German leader Angela Merkel to rule out working with the far right, even after he did the opposite in his previous government.

Austria's Kurz backs Merkel rejection of far right
Photo: DPA

There are “differences” between Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Austria's FPOe Freedom Party, Kurz told the Munich Security Conference, describing the AfD party as more radical.

“That's why I think the path chosen” by Chancellor Merkel's conservative CDU party “is right and sensible”. “I think it's justified that the party has clearly decided not to cooperate with the AfD.”

Merkel's conservatives have been plunged into crisis after regional CDU lawmakers in Thuringia state went rogue last week and voted in the same camp as the AfD to oust a far-left state premier.

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The vote broke a political taboo in Germany and exposed the struggles of mainstream parties to maintain their firewall against the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD, now one of the country's biggest parties. 

The outrage that followed the Thuringia debacle prompted Merkel's preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, to step down as CDU leader and drop her bid to become the party's chancellor candidate when Merkel bows out in 2021.

Looking ahead to Germany's next general election, Kurz predicted that the centre-right CDU could well end up in a coalition with the surging Greens, similar to his own new conservative-Green government.

The latest surveys put Merkel's conservatives in first place with around 27 percent support, followed by the Greens at around 22 percent.

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