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IMMIGRATION

Austrian far-right orders ‘border protection unit’

Austria's new far-right interior minister was quoted as saying on Thursday that he has ordered the creation of a "border protection unit" in case of a major new influx of migrants, like the one in 2015.

Austrian far-right orders 'border protection unit'
Migrants line up at transit area between Austria and Slovenia at border crossing in Spielfeld, Austria on December 9th 2015. Photo: AFP

“A repeat of 2015 cannot be allowed to happen. Therefore I have given instructions for the creation of a border protection unit,” said Herbert Kickl, of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ).

“The aim is to ensure an orderly border management within a few hours,” the 49-year-old former speechwriter for late FPÖ chief Joerg Haider told the Tiroler Tageszeitung daily.

“It is a standby police troop that if need be can secure a border crossing point and carry out identity checks. Just waving people through won't happen again,” he added.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants passed through Austria on their way to Germany and elsewhere at the height of Europe's migrant crisis in 2015, and Austria received a record number of asylum claims.

Kickl's party stoked concerns about the influx and came third in elections last October.

Last month the FPÖ became junior coalition partner to the conservatives of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The last time the FPÖ entered government, in 2000, there was an outcry elsewhere but this time the reaction has been much more muted, partly due to the rise of other anti-immigration parties elsewhere.

The FPÖ has also toned down its criticism of the European Union and the new government's coalition agreement rules out a Brexit-style referendum on Austrian membership of the bloc.

The party's new general secretary Harald Vilimsky, an MEP, said though that the FPÖ will remain in the same European Parliament bloc as the more eurosceptic French National Front of Marine Le Pen.

“We agreed in our talks with Kurz that international alliances are not an issue,” Vilimsky, 51, told Der Standard daily in an interview to be published on Friday.

He added however that alliances may change following European elections and Britain's scheduled departure from the bloc in 2019.

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IMMIGRATION

What is Vienna’s MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The city of Vienna now has several new appointment slots for a 'first information meeting' for those wanting to apply for Austrian citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

What is Vienna's MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, MA 35, is known for long waiting periods, delays and even mistakes being made in applications. It has recently received renewed criticisms as new appointments for Austrian citizenship were not open until mid-2023.

Things got even worse, and applicants now have to wait until October 2023 to get the first appointment. Only after this meeting will they receive another date (sometimes also a year later) to submit the documents asked. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

Green politician Aygül Berivan Aslan said the reform of MA 35 had “failed”. She said she welcomed the SPÖ’s push towards simplifying access to citizenship but felt that “theory and practice do not match”. Speaking in the Viennese parliament, she introduced a motion for a six-month evaluation of the office.

Aslan also proposed that in the case of delays of more than six months, citizenship costs should be waived for applicants. 

Stadt Wien service screenshot

How bad is the situation?

Not only do people have to wait months for a first talk and then months to submit documents, but once their part is done, the wait is not over. There are currently 3,800 procedures pending for more than half a year in the MA 35, Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Integration Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) said.

He justified delays saying that the number of applications had risen by around 30 percent his year in Vienna – only last month, there were 600 appointments booked. 

“The sharp increase can be explained by the eligibility of refugees from 2015 to apply for citizenship as well as by uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine”, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

He added that the goal would need to be “simplifying the procedures nationwide”. However, Wiederkehr also said there were reforms still being implemented in the MA 35.

Wiederkehr said: “On the part of the city, there are ongoing staff increases at MA 35. The training of the employees is so complex that it takes about a year.” 

“In addition to the increase in staff, there was an analysis to optimise some work processes, as well as intensive training. Digitalisation is also being accelerated”, he added.

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