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Austria wants ‘deportation centres’ in Asia to curb Afghan refugee influx

Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer wants to set up 'deportation centres' in countries neighbouring Afghanistan to allow continued deportations of Afghanis to the region, while also discouraging refugees from heading to Europe.

Austria wants 'deportation centres' in Asia to curb Afghan refugee influx
Afghan people move towards the Kabul airport to leave Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war as the Taliban overtook the country. Photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP

Austria’s interior minister said Wednesday he would lobby the EU to help set up “deportation centres” in countries neighbouring Afghanistan to take in Afghans deported from Europe.

Austria has insisted it wants to continue to deport Afghans whose asylum claims have been rejected or who have been found guilty of crimes and to discourage refugees fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan to come to Europe.

“It is important… that it continues to be possible to deport violent asylum seekers or refugees, so we need these deportation centres,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told reporters before meeting his EU counterparts.

Austria under conservative Sebastian Kurz has a hardline stance on migration, at odds with the chancellor’s current coalition partner, the Greens.

The Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday, taking power again in Afghanistan after two decades of war and sparking huge concerns globally about their brutal human rights record.

READ MORE: Will Austria accept more Afghani asylum seekers due to Taliban crisis?

Deportations paused temporarily

Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler on Monday evening said deportations to Afghanistan would no longer take place in line with the European Convention of Human Rights and asylum applications would continue to be accepted.

The Convention prohibits people from being deported back to a country where there is a risk of torture or a danger to life and limb.

However, when Kogler was asked directly if Afghan asylum seekers should be accepted in Austria, he said Austria should offer support, especially in protecting women. But he said he could not elaborate further, “because we do not rule alone”.

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) has come under fire in recent days following comments that people would continue to be deported to Afghanistan as long as it was possible.

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can’t vote

Due to Austria's strict rules on citizenship and growing number of international residents, the number of people that are not allowed to vote is increasing.

Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can't vote

The election of Austria’s Federal President will take place later this year on October 9th and the upcoming vote is once again raising the topic of citizenship and voting rights in the country.

The Kurier reports that 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg. 

As a comparison, 20 years ago there were just 580,000 people without the right to vote in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is around 25 percent.

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who are not able to vote.

Who is eligible for citizenship in Austria?

Currently in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation they have to undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least 10 years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality.

In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from €1,100 to €1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The tricky topic of Austrian citizenship 

Most international residents in Austria do not pursue citizenship as it means revoking citizenship of their home country.

But the Kurier reports that political scientist Peter Filzmaier has warned there could be negative consequences if large sections of the Austrian population remain unable to vote.

Filzmaier said: “Since people are affected by the decisions of the political system in their place of residence, it could also be linked to their place of residence instead of citizenship.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

In May of this year, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen also raised the topic of easing citizenship rules when he told an interviewer that the “hurdles” for Austrian citizenship are too high.

So far though, any discussions surrounding citizenship reform have been dismissed by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

Additionally, political scientist Flizmaier advises any further debate on the issue to take place outside of election time when there is less “emotion”.

READ ALSO: Five of the biggest challenges facing Austria right now

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power.

The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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