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EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On Halloween night, dozens of people, most minors, rioted in the Upper Austrian capital. Two days after the event, Austria is still trying to understand what happened and what to do now.

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?
Pictured is the city of Linz, the capital of Upper Austria.

On the evening of Halloween, dozens of people rioted in Linz. Images on social media appear to show that most of them look young, and the data released by the police confirmed that. 

Among the 129 suspects identified, most (73) are younger than 18, while 26 are considered to be “young adults”, so younger than 21.

What the authorities have not been able to pinpoint, though, is what led to the rioting, which ended with damaged property, injured police officers, and almost 130 people taken into custody.

What exactly happened?

On Halloween evening, October 31st, around 200 took downtown Linz streets on a rampage, damaging storefront windows and attacking unrelated groups of people with stones and even firecrackers. 

READ ALSO: Have your say: Where are the best and worst places to live in Vienna?

As a result, some 170 police officers were called out to the scene to try to drive the rioters away, Austrian media reported. The five-hour operation resulted in nine arrests and two police officers were injured. On Tuesday evening, riots broke out again, but on a much smaller scale and the people left once police arrived.

One thing that draws attention to the episode – other than the unexpected violence – is that many of the people involved were not Austrian citizens. In a country where immigrations is always a contentious issue, this issue was bound to make the headlines.

According to the police, one in three rioters were Austrian citizens. Among the 129 identified suspects, 35 are persons entitled to asylum and five are asylum seekers. In terms of nationality, it is a heterogeneous group, according to broadcaster ORF

Twelve EU citizens, 28 Syrians, and 14 Afghans. Among the Austrians, the police said 34 had a “migration background” – the report didn’t clarify precisely what that meant.

Serbs, Kosovars, North Macedonians, Romanians, Thais and Bosnians were also in the group.

READ ALSO: Tents for asylum seekers stir debate in Austria

However, authorities are still investigating the incident, and there is no final report on the age or nationality of all involved.

What was the role of social media? 

The other point that ensured the riots would stay in the headlines for a while was how they came to happen. 

According to the authorities, the initial evaluation is that the event was unorganised and the rioters had no clear structure. Instead, it was more likely “a loose gathering of young people who had joined forces via social media”, Der Standard reported.

The police are now looking into several videos on TikTok, where young people announced the rioting by saying they wanted to turn Linz “into Athena”. Some videos had more than 19,000 likes and comments discussing how the night would be of “war”.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Who are the asylum seekers trying to settle in Austria?

The Athena comment references a film available on the streaming platform Netflix. The plot centres on the chaos erupting in a French neighbourhood known as Athena after the brutal killing of a child of Algerian origin. Massive riots and confrontations between the police and the population are shown.

What is going to happen now?

The police are still piecing together everything that happened two days after the riots. On social media, there are calls for further rioting (on New Year’s Eve), and xenophobic and racist comments as well, with many blaming asylum seekers and migrants for the events. 

“There’s a lot of tension in the air,” Erich Wahl of the Youth and Leisure Association (VJF), which is in charge of youth work in Linz, told Der Standard on what could have motivated the riots. 

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

Wahl mentioned that the Covid-19 crisis, inflation, and even the war in Ukraine could add to “built-up anger”, especially in young kids. Added to that, immigrants are often in a more difficult situation. 

For example, young people with Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi citizenship have a 21.9 percent unemployment rate, almost four times higher than for Austrians, the daily added.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said the government wants to use “the full force of the law”.

Karner focused on the third-country citizens, saying their permits would be “examined” and that removal from the country could occur in serious criminal offences. 

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

He added that he wanted deportations to happen also to Syria and Afghanistan, where most of the suspects were from, but mentioned that this would be in the “long-term”, as deportations to war states are not allowed under international law.

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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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