September 30th 2015

Safety & migration in Austria.

International scenarios, european approaches, austrian strategies.
Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Federal Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Austria

This year’s MCI Alumni & Friends series of lectures opened with a talk about the highly topical and much debated issue of migration: Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Federal Minister of the Interior, outlined her perspective on the current migrant crisis and provided the audience with the possibility to enter into a dialogue.

Right at the beginning of her lecture, Mikl-Leitner makes clear that Europe is currently facing a challenge which the individual nation state is unable to cope with. In order to gain control of the tide of refugees, targeted measures must be implemented at federal level but, more and more importantly, also at EU level. Austria primarily relies on the provision of first aid and the accelerated integration of asylum seekers into their new home country. The nation of Austria additionally strives for international cooperation to prevent people smuggling. Considering the measures at EU level, Mikl-Leitner first and foremost appeals to the responsibility of each member state to increasingly fight the causes of emigration. In this context it seems necessary to promote peace negotiations and to provide additional financial support, for instance for African countries. Mikl-Leitner moreover calls on the EU to create legal possibilities for entrance into European countries. At the same time she demands increased safety at EU external borders and a law for the equal distribution of asylum seekers across member states to better be able to control the stream of refugees. Only through the implementation of such measures the large influx of refugees can be handled appropriately, as Mikl-Leitner is convinced.

Following Johanna Mikl-Leitner’s talk, MCI Rector Andreas Altmann presented a lively discussion which focused on topics such as the execution of asylum procedures as well as the integration of persons entitled to asylum, their introduction to the labor market and claims to social security benefits:

Over the course of the last few years around 18.000 people submitted a request for asylum in Austria. This year, the country has already received three times as many applications. The number of asylum applications is expected to reach about 85.000 by the end of the year. Newly founded in 2014, the Federal Agency for Immigration and Asylum is now in urgent need of qualified staff members to process this amount of applications. The job, however, requires several months of training. The agency is therefore faced with a severe shortage of staff. But considering the average duration of asylum procedures, we need to appreciate that in Austria the process is usually completed within only five months, or currently seven months because of the exceptional influx of refugees: This is still way above EU average.

Austria shows a rather liberal approach when it comes to providing access to the labor market as well as social security benefits for persons who are entitled to asylum. During the asylum procedure, applicants only obtain limited access to the labor market: They may accept seasonal jobs or get involved in charitable work. Once they have been granted asylum, refugees have the same rights and obligations as Austrians. In such cases a quick integration, also into the labor market, should have priority. Uncertainty and conflicting interests, however, make the current situation even more difficult, as the Federal Minister of the Interior admits: Never before has Austria, at the same time being faced with the highest unemployment rate since the end of the Second World War, registered such a large number of refugees.

Mikl-Leitner furthermore wishes to clarify that asylum must not to be mistaken for immigration. Asylum is exclusively given to people who have to leave their country, for example due to war, and are therefore looking for shelter. Since the idea of a shelter is in the foreground, refugees are certainly not to choose where to apply for asylum. For this reason, Mikl-Leitner would welcome the implementation of EU migrant quotas. The legal amendment to the Austrian Asylum Act, which entered into force on October 1, 2015, enables the Ministry of the Interior to take measures and set up reception places in federal provinces, even without the permission of local mayors. The Minister strongly believes such a regulation to facilitate an efficient and quick distribution of migrants. Yet it does not solve Austria’s lack of places as well as insufficient resources to deal with the present stream of refugees. Not least because of these deficiencies, the Federal Minister of the Interior calls for a fair distribution across EU member states.

Upon being asked about the controversial refugee policy of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Mikl-Leitner concludes her lecture by praising the Austrian’s strong welcome policy. She uses this final point of discussion as an opportunity to thank the action force and all volunteers for the active care and support they have offered to aid incoming refugees over the past days and weeks.