Let integrated families stay, says Fischer

Federal President Heinz Fischer has come out in support of a more human approach to the asylum seekers issue – but it is yet to be seen whether his appeal will have any impact.Fischer said in his National Day speech yesterday (Tues) that well integrated families should be allowed to stay in Austria. The former Social Democratic (SPÖ) president of the federal parliament claimed such a decision would save “a lot of work, many tears and also lots of criticism”.The president appealed: “Let’s not forget: every file features the destiny of a family.”Fischer referred to a number of controversial deportations of families who have lived in Austria for years. NGOs have criticised the current law upon which the government has acted.Immigration regulations allow decision-makers to ignore aspects such as whether applicants for a permit have found work and are able to speak German. The vast number of appeals against deportation rulings that juridical officials have to deal with every year mean that families often spend years living and working in Austria before they hear that they must return to the countries from which they fled.Fischer, however, also stressed that there must not be “uncontrolled immigration”. The president said he considered the suggested introduction of a so-called Red-White-Red Card as a “good idea and a step in the right direction.”The card is supposed to help highly-qualified foreigners find jobs and settle in Austria.The Greens and some NGOs criticised People’s Party (ÖVP) Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger for supporting the introduction of such a card since many apparently well integrated families have to leave Austria every year.Yesterday’s speech came half a year after Fischer was re-elected for a second – and final – term in office. The left-winger garnered 79 per cent in the 25 April presidential election, while Freedom Party (FPÖ) MP Barbara Rosenkranz only won the support of 15 per cent.Fischer beat the ÖVP’s Benita Ferrero-Waldner in the 2004 presidential election.His appeal for a change of mindset towards asylum requests and immigration issues came on the same day Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn said it was “not acceptable” that fully integrated families were being taken out of the personal environment they were used to.Schönborn, the Austrian Catholic Church’s highest representative, also said: “People who are well integrated and who have been living in Austria without breaking the law here should be allowed to stay.”He added: “Austria is in need of good immigration policies.”Schönborn stressed children must not be put be put behind bars awaiting their deportation.Meanwhile, ÖVP Interior Minister Maria Fekter has been accused of “sacrificing a pawn” after she announced the decision to replace Stefan Stortecky, the head of Vienna’s immigration police.The dismissal came days after Augustin Komani and his eight-year-old twin daughters Daniela and Dorentinya were deported to Kosovo hours after family mum Vera was hospitalised following a nervous breakdown. Doctors feared the woman may kill herself after she was informed that the family, who came to Austria in 2004, must return to their civil war-stricken homeland.The family’s fate caused outcry after it emerged that an armed team of elite police unit WEGA surrounded the NGO building in which they were spending their final days in Austria.Fekter initially defended the procedure before claiming she was “hurt and burdened” by the deportation.The trio were, in the meantime, allowed to return to Austria, but their future is still uncertain as authorities have started looking into their request for permanent stay once again.NGOs have claimed political leaders were afraid of taking responsibility for decisions made in this and other cases now that the issue is back in the news.Thousands of people took to the streets in Steyr – the Upper Austrian town where the Komanis lived – and capital Vienna recently to show their disagreement with the family’s deportation.The significant wave of support for less strict and more sensible immigration laws contradicts recent poll results showing that more than four in 10 Austrians think immigrants receive preferential treatment compared to the country’s citizens.Research agency IMAS found last month 42 per cent of Austrians complained that foreigners, asylum seekers and immigrants received better treatment from the authorities than themselves.Vienna-based Karmasin said earlier this year their research revealed that 49 per cent of Austrians consider asylum seekers as “generally dishonest”. The poll also showed that 53 per cent agreed with the claim that asylum seekers “are more criminal than other social groups”.The federal coalition government of SPÖ and ÖVP is currently holding talks whether it should introduce a state secretary to improve the situation regarding integration and immigration issues to improve the situation.The ÖVP has reacted rather reluctantly to claims by some SPÖ officials that a state secretary dealing with integration would help reduce the popularity of the right-wing FPÖ which gained support in the most recent elections.Fekter said she would ensure integration issues would not be outsourced from her ministry. However the Greens and some SPÖ representatives said it would be essential for another department to deal with such matters since the interior minister has already linked the number of asylum seekers coming to Austria with rising crime.