Austria proposes bill to seize phones and cash from migrants

The Austrian Cabinet on 18 April approved a bill to allow the authorities to seize asylum seekers’ phones and up to 840 euros in cash, to make it difficult for rejected asylum seekers to stay in the country.

“We have very deliberately set ourselves the goal of fighting against illegal migration, and also against the misuse of asylum,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference.

Asylum seekers will be made to hand in mobile phones to check their identity, possible criminal history and to be analysed for geographic data to determine the route they had travelled before arriving in Austria.

Applicants found to have previously entered another European Union country could be sent back there because of the Dublin regulation, which states that migrants can only apply for asylum in the EU country they first entered. Data collected from phones will also be used to check if the migrants have committed any crimes.

The money that asylum seekers will be required by law to hand over to the authorities will be used to cover the costs of their application process and for food and lodging.

Other measures proposed in the bill include making it faster to deport asylum seekers who commit crimes, even if they are minors. The bill also wants to see criminals sent to detention centres to await deportation after they serve their sentences.

The bill would require doctors and hospitals to notify authorities when an asylum seeker’s treatment is over to ensure “more effective preparation and implementation of deportations.”

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the right-wing populist Free Party of Austria said the aim of the bill was to see a “restrictive and enforceable law regarding the rights of foreigners.” He said, “a strict and efficient law should prevent abuses of asylum rights in Austria.”

Movement is already restricted for rejected asylum seekers, but under the new law those awaiting deportation will not be allowed to move out of their district.

Those granted asylum will now have to wait a minimum of ten years, instead of six years, before being allowed to apply for citizenship.
“The new law will also serve as a deterrent. When word gets out that we are checking refugees for money, perhaps many of them might choose against coming here,” said Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

The bill must now pass through Parliament.

Initial sympathy for migrants has changed to concern that Austria’s culture will be affected by the large influx of newcomers. Following the migration crisis of 2015, Austria received 150,000 asylum applications, or about 1.7 per cent of its population of 8.7 million.

The government has already drastically cut the refugee integration budget, and announced in early April plans to ban headscarves for girls in kindergarten and primary school. Last year the previous Austrian administration banned full-face veils in courts, schools and other public places.

Mr Kickl had earlier said he would push his European Union colleagues to allow no more asylum applications being made in Europe. Instead he wants migrants to apply for asylum from “transit zones” outside of the EU.

TMP – 11/05/2018

Photo caption: A refugee begs on the streets of Innsbruck, Austria. 1 November 2015.