Austria’s new conservative-nationalist coalition is set to get tough on illegal migration and migrants who refuse to integrate into Austrian society.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has recast the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) to be more responsive to public concerns about the migrant crisis, while his coalition partners in Heinz-Christian Strache’s nationalist-populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) have always favoured a robust response.
Migrants “refusing to integrate” can expect “sanctions” as the coalition’s programme takes shape, with reports suggesting support payments for migrants who are not seen to be making an effort to respect their hosts will be cut, while migrants who adopt Austrian cultural norms are rewarded with an “integration bonus”.
A mutual commitment to “fighting political Islam” is a key policy in the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition agreement, perhaps made more imperative by news that the placement of Muslim children in Salafist kindergartens is creating parallel societies, with the southern city of Graz having become something of an extremist stronghold.
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The youthful chancellor explained why he was pursuing this tough new agenda for English-speaking observers in an article for TIME magazine.
“At the height of the migration crisis which hit Europe in 2015, a photograph circulated in social media showing a lone policeman standing arms across trying to block a country-road near the Austrian border while hundreds of migrants passed by him on both sides of the road,” recalled the 31-year-old.
“For me this picture was paradigmatic of the crisis: the sense of a loss of control and of being overwhelmed,” he explained.
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Kurz conceded that Austria had admitted refugees before, in particular following the unscussesful uprising by the Hungarians and the Czechs against their Communist overlords in 1956 and 1968, and during the Balkan wars in the 1990s as well.
“This time was different,” he insisted.
“First, the sheer number of arrivals in such a short period of time – at the height of the crisis 10,000 to 12,000 people arrived at the Austrian border every day – stretched our admission capacities to the limit.
“Secondly, migrants and refugees this time did not flee from our immediate neighbourhood. They travelled through several safe third countries, including EU member-states, before arriving in their country of choice in Central Europe.”
Kurz believes it is now “of utmost importance to regain control of the situation”, and that “stopping and returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin must become standard procedure.”
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Austria had not been especially strong on mass migration compared to the Visegrád alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia before now, with the political establishment tolerating an increase in crime and sex attacks and the growth of radical Islam in the country for some time.
Recently elected Left-Green president Alexander Van der Bellen has even suggested there “will come a day when we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all of them! – out of solidarity towards those who do it for religious reasons,” to help fight “Islamophobia”.
He also scoffed that “anyone who loves Austria must be shit” while on the campaign trail.
The extent to which he will attempt to interfere with the new coalition’s governing agenda remains to be seen.