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A Syrian refugee family in Nickelsdorf, Austria. Under the proposed amendments to the country’s asylum law, cash and electronic devices carried by asylum-seekers could be seized among other measures © UNHCR/Florian Rainer

UN concerned over proposed amendments to Austria’s asylum law

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has urged the Austrian government to keep the protection of refugees at the centre of draft amendments to the country’s asylum law.

The UNHCR has presented a juridical analysis of the draft amendments to Austria’s asylum law, urging the Austrian government to uphold its commitment to protect sensitive asylum policies.

The organization expressed ”concern” about the recent proposed amendments to Austria’s asylum law, including the proposed seizure of cash and electronic devices carried by asylum-seekers and the prolonged waiting period required before refugees can apply for Austrian citizenship.

Concern for proposed amendments

The head of UNHCR in Austria, Christoph Pinter, said that ”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 Pinter.

The agency explained in a statement that it was particularly worried by the proposed seizure of cash of up to 840 euros upon arrival in Austria if an asylum-seeker is carrying more than 120 euros.

”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 warned 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,” the agency stressed.

Long wait for citizenship

UNHCR also expressed concern because ”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”.

The UN agency said it believes that ”facilitating access to citizenship, particularly for refugees who have been part of Austrian society for years, further fosters integration, and contributes to social cohesion”. The organization thus asked the government to ”reconsider the proposed law amendments, and to take all respective decisions with a focus on refugee protection”.

© ANSA

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