Deported Kosovar family may return to Austria

A Kosovar father and his twin daughters who were controversially deported earlier this month have been offered the opportunity to return to Austria.The interior ministry announced today (Mon) that Daniela, Dorentinya and Augustin Komani will be able to come back on a “humanitarian visa” permit.The eight-year-olds and their dad were put on a flight to Kosovar capital Pristina after their most recent application for permanent residence in Austria was rejected. Their legal advisor Karin Klaric, from non-government organisation (NGO) Purple Sheep revealed that the kids were unable even to pick up their teddy bears as armed policemen surrounded the apartment in which they were staying while awaiting deportation. The trio were taken to a police venue to spend their final 24 hours on Austrian soil behind bars.NGOs, Federal Constitutional Court (VfGH) President Gerhart Holzinger and charity organisation chiefs were outraged by the procedure. The girls speak fluent German and went to school in Steyr, Upper Austria, where their father – a skilled electronics technician – worked as a gardener.People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister came under fire for justifying the immigration police’s actions as “correct and family-adequate”, despite being aware that the girls’ mum Vera was in a Viennese clinic following a nervous breakdown at that time. The woman was hospitalised as doctors feared she could commit suicide.The minister tried to calm down the heated country-wide debate by announcing a few days later that she was “hurt and burdened” by what had happened. Fekter also promised to ensure future deportations would be carried out “in a more humane way”.Fekter explained today the ministry decided to allow the Komanis back into Austria following the conclusion that decision made by Upper Austrian authorities were flawed. Steyr town hall officials had referred to a negative statement regarding the family by provincial police, but federal decision-makers since concluded that it did not justify their deportation. The family had been living in Steyr since 2004 when they fled civil-war stricken Kosovo.Augustin Komani and his daughters found preliminary accommodation with relatives in Pristina during the past few days. He told visiting reporters from Austrian broadcaster ORF that the girls still believed they were on a holiday since he was unable to tell them the truth. Asked by the ORF team what they were missing from home, Daniela and Dorentinya said: “The people, our toys, the kids we went to school with – and mum. We want to go back to mummy.”Augustin Komani revealed: “I had to undress myself several times for examinations during the deportation procedures. I’m not a criminal!”Fekter – a representative of the conservative ÖVP’s right-wing branch – said she did not know when the family will return to Austria, stressing this would also depend on the authorities in Kosovo. The interior minister said she expected a speedy return since the Komanis have received legal advice from NGOs.The story of the Komani family is only one of a string of seriously disputed cases of well-integrated families learning that they must leave Austria even after having lived here for years. Juridical officials dealing with asylum seekers’ requests for permission to work and live in Austria have been stressing for a long time that they are lacking staff to handle the thousands of applications. Shortages have caused dramatic delays in procedures.NGOs focusing on helping asylum seekers and refugees have criticised the federal government’s decision-making for many years. Politicians have also attacked coalition – formed by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP.”It’s just disgusting that they keep referring to strict immigration laws when deporting integrated people – laws they passed themselves some years ago,” Liberal Forum (LiF) founder Heide Schmidt said.One NGO representative revealed in a recent radio interview that the “criminal record” a young man had been deported over featured three trivial offences such as cycling at night-time without the lights on.Austria allowed 21.7 per cent of the 15,785 people who applied for an asylum permit to stay last year. This gives Austria a middling position in Europe. The Netherlands rated the highest percentage of accepted applications among the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states with 48.3 per cent, while Greece (1.1 per cent) came last.Official figures show 7,192 people applied for asylum in Austria between January and September of this year, down by 29 per cent compared to the number of requests recorded during the first nine months of last year.Fekter made clear last week that she had no plans to change current regulations allowing immigration police to forcefully deport people whose residence permits are rejected. The minister said she expected “more acceptance” from the public for the authorities’ measures, while Holzinger said the way police behaved when picking up the Komani family was “sad, worrying and completely inappropriate”.The interior minister further promised to ensure officials will consult the Austrian human rights council more often before asking families to leave the country. NGOs rubbished Fekter’s suggestion seeing that this body is managed by the interior ministry itself.It is not the first time NGOs and left-wing politicians have turned their guns on the interior minister. Fekter caused outcry with various controversial statements regarding immigration for years. She said earlier this year Austria must prevent “illiterate farmers from some mountain villages” from settling in the country, adding that she will not leave the “path of constitution” when faced with media images of asylum seekers’ “naïve fawn-like eyes”.Fekter – who succeeded Günther Platter as federal interior minister in July 2008 – has controversially rejected suggestions to set up a specific state secretary dealing with integration and immigration issues. The minister said she would not let these agendas be taken away from her ministry. NGOs have expressed hopes that the situation of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants could improve if another department dealt with issues affecting their situation rather than the interior ministry.The interior minister has meanwhile become one of Austria’s most unpopular politicians. Her hardline policies have also brought ÖVP boss Josef Pröll under pressure as he has spent months controversially defending all of her statements and actions.The ÖVP’s bitter losses in the 10 October Vienna city parliament elections are also linked with Fekter’s course and the deportation of the Komani family just days before the ballot took place.The ÖVP Vienna garnered 13.8 per cent in the vote, down from the 18.8 per cent which helped it to retain second place in 2005. The party was overtaken by the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) which claimed more than 26 per cent (2005: 14.8 per cent).Hannes Rauch is the first leading party representative to publicly criticise the ÖVP’s position on the deportation of the Komanis. Rauch, general secretary of the party’s Tyrolean branch, said the go-ahead for the deportation was one of the reasons the party did worse than ever before in city elections in the federal capital. He appealed: “The ÖVP is a Christian-liberal party. We must act differently (on such deportation cases) in the future.”Fekter and Pröll reportedly met privately at the weekend. The minister’s U-turn on the Komani family’s destiny could be seen as a direct result of the meeting.Analysts have however predicted that the ÖVP’s image will suffer substantially from the strict policies of its interior minister. The recent debate comes after federal chairman and Vice Chancellor Pröll tried to turn the once ultra-conservative party into a more liberal movement.Meanwhile, the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition is set to pass a law keeping asylum seekers from leaving shelters in which they stay on arrival in Austria for one week. Referring to crimes allegedly carried out by asylum seekers after escaping such venues, Fekter claimed this suggested legislation was a “reaction to the insecurity of the Austrian people”. The interior minister had initially wanted the SPÖ to support her in demanding that new asylum seekers spend a minimum of one month in such centres, but after widespread criticism, she agreed with her negotiation partner on the matter, SPÖ Defence Minister Norbert Darabos, to reduce the minimum time span to five to seven days.Austria has struggled to shake off its reputation of being a very conservative and partly xenophobic country ever since the end of World War Two.The FPÖ played a strong role in federal policies after Jörg Haider took over as party leader in 1986. Its power diminished after Haider – who died in 2008 – left to found the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) five years ago. The FPÖ however managed to recover during the past five years and is being given the chance to become the second-strongest political force on federal level if the SPÖ-ÖVP government coalition breaks up ahead of the scheduled 2013 general election.A poll by research agency IMAS showed last month that, with 42 per cent, more than four in 10 Austrians, think immigrants and asylum seekers are treated better by authorities than they themselves.The Vienna-based institute Karmasin found 49 per cent of Austrians consider asylum seekers as “generally dishonest”, while a majority of 53 per cent agreed with the claim asylum seekers “are more criminal than other society groups”.