Austria’s Kurz says he wants to ward off a new migration ‘catastrophe’

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Wednesday raised the spectre of a 'catastrophe' similar to the events of 2015 if Europe does not agree a common response on migration.

Austria's Kurz says he wants to ward off a new migration 'catastrophe'
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) speaks during a press conference with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer at the Interior Ministry in Berlin, on June 13, 2018. Photo: AFP

Kurz's comments came as he and his ministers held a special joint session in the Austrian city of Linz with their Bavarian counterparts from the German CSU party, which is currently locked in a battle over migration policy within  the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

“We can't wait until we have a catastrophe like the one in 2015,” Kurz said, referring to the migrant crisis of 2015-16, which saw more than 150,000 people seek asylum in Austria, a country of 8.7 million.

A row over migration policy in Germany between Merkel and her CSU interior minister Horst Seehofer has shaken the stability of the government in Berlin.

Kurz insisted he didn't want to take sides in an “internal German debate” but welcomed the fact that immigration was once again being discussed by EU leaders ahead of a summit later this month.

“If the discussion in Germany has an upside, it's that there's now a new dynamic on the European level, and that there's now a bigger chance that we finally see action in the EU,” Kurz said. 

Without naming Merkel he also aimed a shot across her bows by making clear what he thought were the results of her decision to welcome refugees to Germany in 2015.

Those who opened the borders in 2015 “are responsible for the fact that we have border controls between Austria and Bavaria, between Austria and Hungary, between Austria and Italy, and that the situation could get even worse”, he said.

Kurz, who hails from the centre-right People's Party (ÖVP) went into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) after an election last year in which both parties made a clampdown on immigration a central theme.

'Common conviction'

Kurz was foreign minister under the previous government and often boasts of his actions to close the “Balkan route” for migrants in 2016.

The head of Bavaria's state government, Markus Söder, emphasised that Munich and Vienna “have a common conviction and position” on the issue.

Kurz has said he intends to make migration a key theme when Austria takes up the EU's rotating presidency at the beginning of July and has been busy seeking allies for his stance.

Last week he announced that Seehofer, Austria's interior minister Herbert Kickl and Italy's new interior minister Matteo Salvini — from the xenophobic Northern League — had formed an “axis of the willing” to combat illegal immigration.

On Thursday Kurz will go to Budapest to attend a meeting of leaders from the four central European Visegrad states — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — who have traditionally supported hardline policies on migration.

READ ALSO: German Interior Minister forms 'axis' with Austria, Italy against Merkel

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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.