UNHCR calls on Austrian Government to keep refugee protection at centre of asylum law amendments

Vienna, Austria – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today published its legal analysis on the draft amendments to the asylum law, calling on the Austrian Government to uphold its commitment to protection sensitive asylum policies.

UNHCR is concerned about several proposed new regulations, including the seizure of cash and electronic devices of asylum-seekers, and a prolonged waiting period for refugees before they are able to apply for Austrian citizenship.

“UNHCR is worried about the recent proposed amendments to Austria’s asylum law, and their potential impact on asylum-seekers and refugees. In addition, despite Austria’s existing solid asylum system containing safeguards against abuse, a number of the draft amendments are seemingly based on the assumption that people are seeking to abuse the asylum system. This risks negatively impacting public discourse and making refugee integration more difficult,” said Christoph Pinter, Head of UNHCR in Austria.

UNHCR is particularly worried about the proposed seizure of cash of up to 840 upon arrival in Austria if an asylum-seeker is carrying more than 120.

“Under the current law, only asylum-seekers with financial difficulties receive financial support. If asylum-seekers have enough resources, it goes without saying that they should provide for themselves. However, there is a big difference between a request to contribute to or provide for food and rent, and the actual confiscation of money through coercive measures,” added Pinter.

“People who have lost almost everything through war or who have been at the mercy of smugglers should not be subjected to such a treatment.”

UNHCR also warns against the proposed far-reaching power of authorities to search for and seize electronic devices. This is a highly intrusive measure that should only be conducted when strictly necessary, with the requisite safeguards, for a limited period of time, with respect to data protection laws and the right to an effective remedy.

UNHCR is further concerned that, despite already having one of the European Union’s tightest nationality laws, in the draft proposal refugees would have to wait at least 10 years instead of the current 6, before being able to apply for Austrian citizenship. UNHCR believes that facilitating access to citizenship, particularly for refugees who have been part of Austrian communities for years, further fosters integration, and contributes to social cohesion.

In the light of the proposed amendments and potential impact on asylum-seekers and refugees, UNHCR is calling on the Austrian Government to reconsider the proposed law amendments, and to take all respective decisions with a focus on refugee protection.

Read the legal analysis (in German)

 

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