The Austrian Goverment’s plans to be tough on migrants have never been hidden.
It started with the decision to introduce a limit to the number of asylum claims to be accepted yearly. Austria declared that they will accept 37,500 asylum claims in 2016 – less than half of last year’s 90,000. It has received around 14,000 claims so far. Now, the government announced an amendment to the Asylum Act that will introduce, as of mid-May, a new procedure at the border which allows for asylum applications to be immediately rejected if the person has arrived irregularly on the Austrian territory. According to the amendment, only cases of refugees facing threats to their safety in a neighbouring transit country or whose relatives are already in Austria will be accepted, effectively derogating from the 1951 Refugee Convention and from EU law.
The government claims that this derogation is justified under EU law, which allows member states to take national measures in case of “a threat to public order and national security”. Austria claims that the high number of asylum requests received last year is a threat to public order, and therefore the limit is justified.
“This is probably the most fundamental change in recent decades. A change which means Austria virtually takes leave of the right to asylum,” says Michael Landau, head of the Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) Caritas. According to a large group of NGOs, this bull is illegal. In addition, the new rules will also force migrants to request asylum directly at the border in purpose-built registration centres, where they may be held for up to 120 hours while their application is being checked. In practice, migrants will end up being detained during the time needed to analyse their request, which is a measure that is prohibited under EU law.
In addition to these changes in the law, Austria has started the construction of a concrete border post at its southern Brennero border crossing with Italy, foreseeing an increase in arrivals to its southern neighbour and in an early attempt to stop any possible crossings into Austria. The move has been strongly condemned by Italian authorities, who believe that it is not in line with the general principles of the Schengen agreement.