Fekter under fire as eight-year-old twins deported

People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter is in hot water after she called the deportation of eight-year-old twin sisters “correct and family-adequate”.Dozens of officers from the special police unit WEGA on Wednesday surrounded the refugee home in Vienna as Dorentinya, Daniela and their dad Augustin awaited the decision about whether they were allowed to stay in Austria.The family has applied for humanitarian stay several times after they illegally came to Austria from war-shattered Kosovo in September 2004, just half a year after a more generous law on asylum seekers came into force.The sisters and their father, who were not allowed to pack anything, were transferred to a detention centre before being put on a flight to Kosovar capital Pristina yesterday.Their mother Vera, meanwhile, remains in stationary care at Vienna’s Otto Wagner Hospital amid fears she could commit suicide. The woman has reportedly not yet been informed that her husband and their daughters were forced to leave Austria.Fekter stressed today the deportation was “correct”. She said in an interview with newspaper Die Presse: “We handled thousands more such cases. Someone who does not leave the country voluntarily after an application to stay has been rejected is informed that they will be deported.”Asked whether she could justify the operation of armed police, the minister said: “The procedure was constitutional and appropriate. Immigration police have a difficult job. They must carry out appropriate measures if resistance from a family can be expected.”Fekter added authorities would always try to act “family-adequate”.The minister, who represents the conservative ÖVP’s right-wing branch, said voluntary leave of the country was “always the preferable option” in the case of a residence permit being rejected.”It would have been reasonable for them to go the correct way and return to Austria from Kosovo legally,” she said.The minister said the family’s story was further proof that public attention changes nothing. She claimed the case had been widely covered only because Vienna city parliament elections were due this Sunday (10 October).NGOs have harshly criticised the authorities’ procedures.Christine Schmidtthaler said: “The family were standing on their own feet. All of them were ‘overly-integrated’ and spoke excellent German.”Karin Klaric, the family’s legal consultant, vowed not to give up the fight for their possible future in Austria. Klaric, whose NGO Purple Sheep rejects any funding by the state, explained the girls were told they were going on a holiday to cause them as little stress as possible.The Komani family lived in the Upper Austrian town of Steyr before moving to Vienna recently awaiting the decision of their most recent application for permission to stay in Austria. Dad Augustin, a skilled electro technician, worked as a gardener. Dorentinya and Daniela recently received their First Communion.Viennese refugee supporter Ute Bock called the deportation a “disgrace”. She said: “The family weren’t a burden for anyone. What will become of the kids (in Kosovo)?”Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ (UN) Special Rapporteur on Torture, branded the authorities’ actions towards the Komani family a “serious interference into family life”.The Austrian diplomat said: “Most people put into custody awaiting deportation aren’t criminals and should therefore not be treated as such.”Speaking to the Kurier newspaper, Nowak said he recognised an offence against the personal right of freedom in the handlings.”The way WEGA officers woke the kids up and separated them from their mother is a breach of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he added.The Komani family’s destiny is just the latest in a serious of disputed cases of immigration officials’ dealings with asylum seekers and well integrated foreigners.NGOs have claimed authorities have been looking for every possible legal loophole to deport people who lived in Austria for years.”A young man was deported because of his criminal record – three minor offences such as cycling at night time without the lights on,” one NGO representative said in a radio interview.Austria allowed 21.7 per cent of the 15,785 people who applied for an asylum permit to stay last year. The Netherlands rated the highest percentage of applications positively with 48.3 per cent, while Greece (1.1 per cent) came last among the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states last year.Meanwhile, pressure on the ÖVP is increasing following a string of controversial remarks of its interior minister. Fekter stressed earlier this year she did not want “unskilled, illiterate farmers from some mountain villages” to settle in Austria. The hardliner also said a “pair of naïve eyes like a fawn” of an asylum seeker will not push her from the path of constitution.The conservative party has tried to give itself a more liberal image since Josef Pröll took over as federal chairman two years ago. These efforts have also been made in a bid to win the support of people who used to vote for the Greens and the Social Democrats (SPÖ) which both did badly in most elections over the past three years.Some analysts have claimed Fekter was the true face of the “new” ÖVP and branded Pröll’s attempt to convince both liberal and right-wing Austrians by having a hardliner in his rows a flop.Recent polls have suggested the ÖVP will not manage to retain second place in the Vienna vote this Sunday for failing to sharpen its profile.