A new legislation that bans face Muslim veils, obliges immigrants to attend integration courses and asylum seekers to carry out unpaid public work will go into force in October after it was signed into law by the country’s president.
The controversial integration law that will fine women for wearing face-concealing Islamic dress from October, and deprive migrants of benefits who fail to take language lessons has officially been enacted, after being rubberstamped by the President.
“Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” reads the text of the law that drew hundreds of Muslim women protesters to the streets earlier this year, before it was passed by a centrist coalition last month.
Women who will wear Islamic veils – either the burqa or the niqab – in public places, will face a fine of €150.
More generally, newcomers who expect to stay in Austria, will need to enroll in a 12-month “integration course,” which includes German language lessons, if they are to receive their welfare benefits.
They will also be expressly forbidden from distributing incendiary radical materials, and are encouraged to volunteer before they can get their work permits, so that they are better prepared for life in the workplace.
More than 90,000 people have arrived in the Central European country since the start of the migrant crisis in 2015, most of them from Muslim-majority countries outside of Europe.
The law was opposed by the left-leaning Green Party, which said that it scapegoated refugees, and the nationalist Freedom Party, which called it a window-dressing for deeper integration issues and said it had been designed to stop its rise in the polls.
The centrist coalition promised that the legislation would offer a holistic approach. It has since collapsed, triggering an early election in October.
“Work is one of the most important factors for successful integration, which is why we are not only breaking down language barriers with this policy – we are also creating a continuous integration concept for the first time,” said Social Democratic politician Alois Stoger back in May.
France was the first EU state to introduce a similar ban on Islamic veils in 2010, levying an identical €150 fine. It has since been copied in other countries, including Germany, which has also pushed through a prohibition of face coverings for state employees.
Kwame Appiah with agency reports