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Why is Austria resorting to tent accommodation for asylum seekers?

As tents for asylum seekers are being put up in some parts of Austria, a dispute is ongoing between federal and state governments.

Why is Austria resorting to tent accommodation for asylum seekers?
The number of asylum seekers and displaced people crossing into Austria has increased since earlier this year. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The number of asylum seekers and displaced persons arriving in Austria has been increasing since earlier this year.

Now, as winter approaches, the Ministry of the Interior is resorting to temporary accommodation options for people in the form of tents on federal government property.

By Monday afternoon (October 17th), 25 tents had been set up across Austria with 15 in Thalham, Upper Austria, and 10 in Carinthia (in Villach and Klagenfurt).

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

The Federal Agency for Reception and Support Services (BBU) says the tents are only intended for young men who arrive in Austria alone. Women and children should still be housed in permanent accommodation.

Andreas Achrainer, Managing Director of the BBU, said the purpose of the tents was to avoid homelessness. He also added that the reception centre at Traiskirchen in Lower Austria is now overcrowded.

According to the Wiener Zeitung, only Vienna and Burgenland have housed their quota of asylum seekers and displaced people so far. Carinthia is the worst performing state at only 62 percent. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas criticised the use of tents. Christoph Pinter of UNHCR Austria said it was “incomprehensible” that tents were needed for asylum seekers. “The basic figures have hardly increased, but the federal states are providing too little accommodation,” he said.

“We have a federal solidarity crisis, not a refugee crisis,” Klaus Schwertner, executive director of Caritas in the Archdiocese of Vienna, said on Twitter.

Which states are disputing the tent accommodation in Austria?

The controversial decision by the Austrian Federal Government to set up tent accommodation has particularly angered politicians in Upper Austria where 15 tents are now standing near the asylum reception centre in Thalham.

On Monday, Mayor Ferdinand Aigner (ÖVP) of St. Georgen im Attergau, Upper Austria, announced there will be a protest on the Austria National Day holiday on October 26th. 

FOR MEMBERS: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Aigner said the protest will start in the centre of St. Georgen before marching to the Westautobahn. He has not ruled out completely blocking the motorway.

In a report by Der Standard, Aigner says the local community is not “xenophobic or right wing”, and that the municipality’s “humane”. “We help when it is necessary. But now it is enough, now it is too much”, he said.

He criticised the federal government, saying the authorities chose the “stupidest solution”: “In a dictatorial manner and without consideration for the population, tents were simply erected here”.

“This is inhumane and shameful for a state like Austria”, he added.

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

Aigner also raised fears about the tents being housed by male asylum seekers and said local women and children were scared. He cancelled plans to turn off street lightning at night as an energy-saving measure: “I don’t dare do that now – no matter how much the electricity costs.”.

Where are the next planned locations for tent accommodation?

Tyrol and Vorarlberg are next on the list for tent accommodation for asylum seekers, although there is also expected to be resistance to the plans.

At the weekend, leaders of both provinces said they were urgently looking for more permanent housing options instead of putting up tents, report ORF.

And in Lower Austria, Asylum Councillor Gottfried Waldhäusl (FPÖ) has outright rejected the plans.

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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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