New measures to manage entry and repatriation of asylum seekers come into force in Austria this week. The aim is to speed up applications and make Austria less attractive to asylum seekers.
Austria’s new defense minister has announced on television a series of measures in relation to the alpine country's management of a record number of asylum seekers.
Hans Peter Doskozil, the former states director of police, has just taken up his post as head of the Ministry of Defense and Sports (BMLVS). He said on public television that the air force’s Hercules C-130 aircraft would be used to transport asylum seekers whose applications had failed.
"If we have decided that a person will not be granted asylum and should return to their own country, then this should be applied," Doskozil said on ORF television. "We have agreed on a green light for the use of Hercules aircraft and that in the coming week we will offer the Hercules to the interior ministry."
Last week the Austrian government announced plans to repatriate before the end of 2019 at least 50,000 people whose applications for asylum had been refused. "This number (of repatriations) that we have proposed is the minimum," Doskozil said. Austria has a population of 8.4 million people and last year received 90,000 applications for asylum.
Doskozil also said military personnel would be deployed to the country’s borders. He added that he may ask for an extension of compulsory military service if the number of migrants attempting to cross the country’s borders reaches the levels seen last summer.
The measures have been announced as Austria continues to accept about 500 newcomers every day. "You have to realize that we will not tolerate a second year with 90,000 asylum seekers," Doskozil said.
Last year, Austria deported 8,395 failed asylum seekers. Most of them returned to Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. Officials hope to increase that figure to at least 12,500 in 2016.
Gunter Ecker, director of Verein Menschenrechte, a civil society group that assists migrants, said the number of people returning to their home countries had dramatically increased in recent months. In January, the group helped 347 people, mostly men from Iraq, to go home. Last year, some 2,500 people voluntarily returned to their homeland. Ecker estimates that number could rise to 4,500 in 2016.
Making Austria less attractive
Austria has also been seen to develop a strategy to make the country less attractive to asylum seekers. There have been suggestions Austria may lower the monthly minimum wage.
As part of the measures, a fast track application process for applicants from designated safe countries including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Georgia, Mongolia and Gambia has been set up. Their applications are to completed within ten days. However, there were fewer than 1,000 asylum seekers from Morocco and Algeria last year.
The government is also to raise the amount of money for applicants who leave Austria voluntarily within three months. Under new rules they will get 500 euros ($543), a rise from the former 370 euros. Those who leave within six months will get 250 euros.
Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said in a media interview that the new deportation measures were “important, but even more important is to end our open door policy and not let so many refugees into the country in future.”
Border management system
Austria’s new border management system was due to open in Spielfeld, on the south east border with Slovenia on Monday. But Fritz Grundnig, spokesman for the Styria state police said it was still a "work in progress." Most refugees continue to enter Austria through its southern state of Carinthia.
Officials from other Austrian states are being trained in procedures for migrant entry and they will be deployed in the event that numbers reach the levels of 3,000 people per week as they did last summer. The aim of the system being set up in Spielfeld is "complete control and complete registration," Doskozil said.
Under the new procedures, newcomers would first be screened for weapons in a system similar to that used at airports. Their passports and identity papers would also be checked to make sure they were not false. Only people seeking asylum in Germany or Austria would be accepted.
Applicants would then be given colored paper bracelets: red for those being repatriated, yellow for those staying in Austria and white for those moving on to Germany.
Of the 500 people currently passing through Spielfeld each day, around 15 are being returned to Slovenia. About 50 people apply for asylum in Austria and the remainder travel on to Germany.
Migrants who are returned to Slovenia can continue to travel the next day if they have not requested asylum in Austria or Germany, Grundnig told DW.