The first of five so-called hotspots opened on Lesbos Island in Greece in 2015. The Citizenship Identification Centers were intended to screen and register all incoming migrants | Photo: picture alliance/NurPhoto/M. Gael
The first of five so-called hotspots opened on Lesbos Island in Greece in 2015. The Citizenship Identification Centers were intended to screen and register all incoming migrants | Photo: picture alliance/NurPhoto/M. Gael

Austria has declared that it supports hardline changes to European asylum laws proposed by Germany. The two countries want migrants stopped at Europe’s external borders and turned away if they do not have a strong claim for asylum.

Austria’s interior minister, Karl Nehammer, says he supports a German proposal to process asylum claims before migrants enter Europe. “It is important to conduct fast-track procedures at the external border,” Nehammer told the German newspaper WELT before a scheduled meeting with his German counterpart, Horst Seehofer, in Berlin Wednesday.

Nehammer wants to speed up decisions on migrants wishing to enter Europe who have little prospect of being allowed to stay, and to be able to force the immediate return of those whose asylum claims are rejected. Seehofer’s proposal to have these decisions made at the borders of Italy, Greece, Malta or Spain are “absolutely correct,” Nehammer said. He also suggested that it would help to protect migrants from embarking on potentially life-threatening journeys. Austrias interior minister Karl Nehammer of the VP Austrian Peoples Party takes a hardline on migration  Photo picture allianceH FohringerFor Nehammer, the cornerstone of successful reforms would be the ability of European countries to turn people away at their borders before they set foot on European soil or enter its waters.

The idea was presented by the German interior minister almost a year ago. Last October, at a meeting of the G6 group of interior ministers of Germany, France Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, it was said to have broad support.

Also read: Germany wants asylum seekers assessed before reaching Europe

Finding common ground

It’s not clear whether the proposal will form part of the draft common European asylum policy, which the European Commission plans to present after the northern summer break. Germany, which will have begun its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, is expected to have considerable influence over the shape of the policy. Austria, which has a much smaller population than the G6 countries, will have less of a say. 

Austria has taken in a large share of migrants, Nehammer says. “With more than 200,000 asylum applications in the last five years alone and 110,000 of those entitled to protection, our country bears a large part of the burden in Europe,” he told WELT.

The Seehofer plan, backed by Nehammer, would see that burden shifted away from Germany and Austria to countries on the edges of Europe “as close as possible to the (migrants’) country of origin. That would mean a future common EU asylum policy that did not include migrant quotas binding on all states.

‘European solidarity in action’

In return for stopping migrants at the gates of Europe, Austria would be willing to support the border countries with concrete assistance.

Last February, when Turkey sent asylum seekers in the direction of Europe, Austria provided an armored vehicle, two drones and 13 special police to support Greece’s efforts to defend its border, Nehammer said. “This is European solidarity in action,” he told WELT.

Also read: Austria: ‘There will be no waving them through at the border’

Vienna also sent more than 180 containers to Greece to house migrants.In March 2020 Greek forces stopped migrants getting into Europe from Turkey after Ankara declared it would no longer stop them from leaving  Photo picture allianceNurPhotoN Economou Borders controls in third countries

Preventing “illegal” migration to Europe also requires cooperation and assistance “on the ground” in countries from which migrants set out, Nehammer said. “Without strong partnerships with these states and intensive assistance on the ground, it will not work.”

Austria is currently involved in a joint project with Denmark and the International Migration Center (ICMPD) to combat human trafficking and secure the borders in Tunisia, according to Nehammer. He explained that the project includes an education and training center in Nefta, in the south of Tunisia, intended to train Tunisian border guards. “By helping to strengthen Tunisia’s borders, we are also protecting our European borders.”

According to WELT, Germany is also providing funds to Tunisian border guards.

The WELT article by Christoph B. Schiltz, "Die deutsch-österreichische Asyl-Allianz" (The German-Austrian asylum alliance) was published on on 24 June, 2020


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