Austria Will Encourage Failed Asylum Seekers to Leave by Cutting Aid, Food

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka speakes during a press conference for the for Austria's presidential election in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
AP Photo/Ronald Zak

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has announced the government will stop providing failed asylum seekers with food and shelter to encourage them to leave.

The Austrian grand coalition of the Socialist Party (SPÖ) and Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) announced new measures to tackle the issue of rejected asylum seekers who remain in the country. Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka of the ÖVP said migrants who refuse to leave the country will now face consequences which could include a suspension of shelter and food, Reuters reports.

The new migrant bill is also set to include provisions that would bring a possible three-week prison sentence or fines of up to €5,000 for migrants who lie about their identity. Migrants who claim to be underage, but are actually adults, has been an issue in places like Germany and Sweden. In at least two cases of murder, the migrant perpetrators have tried to claim they were underage, likely so they could receive a more lenient sentence and preferential treatment.

The new, harsher migrant policies are seen to be a challenge to the anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) who have been tough on immigration even before the migrant crisis. Recently, when the ÖVP said they wanted to lower the yearly migrant limit to 17,000, FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian (HC) Strache said the limit should be zero and Austria should focus on deporting illegal migrants already in the country.

Interior Minister Sobotka was clear on the intention of the new legislation saying: “The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?”

According to Sobotka, there are around 4,000 migrants in Austria who have been rejected asylum. Of those, he claims around 2,000 should be healthy enough to voluntarily return to their home countries.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  has sharply criticised the new proposal and has asked Austrian politicians to carefully examine the consequences of passing such legislation calling it “highly questionable”.

The grand coalition of the SPÖ and the ÖVP was renewed earlier this year after conflicts led some to believe it may collapse and force new federal elections. In recent polls, the anti-mass migration FPÖ is in a clear lead despite its candidate in last year’s presidential elections, Norbert Hofer, losing to left wing former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen.

If the FPÖ wins the next election, which is due in 2018 at the latest, Van der Bellen has promised to block the party from forming a government, which could spark a constitutional crisis.

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