Turkish debate set to intensify over new immigration figures

More than one out of five residents of Vienna are foreigners, statistics have shown.Federal agency Statistik Austria said today (Fri) the capital’s percentage of foreigners was 21.5 per cent while only 11 per cent of Austria’s populace have other nationalities than Austrian. The authority also explained that, with more than 368,000, around 40 per cent of all foreigners living in Austria reside in Vienna.Germans were identified as the largest group of foreigners in Austria with 146,000, followed by people from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo (136,000). Around 113,000 inhabitants are Turks, while more than 70,000 Austrians have a Turkish migratory background.The share of students and gastronomy sector staff among Germans is traditionally high and comparably few frictions are reported about their coexistence with Austrians in Austria. The situation is somewhat different considering the country’s Turkish community as some politicians and some media keep campaigning against them.Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache and other right-wingers have claimed that many Turks living in Austria show no interest in integrating with society. Representatives of his party have called for a stop to migration from Islam-dominated countries to Austria. Latest polls show that the FPÖ currently has good chances to become the strongest political force in Austria after its third place (17.5 per cent) in the general election of 2008.New People’s Party (ÖVP) leader Michael Spindelegger recently introduced a state secretary for integration issues in what is seen as an attempt to stop his own party’s downward spiral in favour of the FPÖ.Sebastian Kurz, deputy head of the ÖVP’s Vienna department, agreed to become the country’s first integration state secretary last month. His nomination was met with widespread criticism from political rivals of the ÖVP as well as from non-government organisations (NGO) and independent integration and asylum policies experts. While some said he lacked experience due to his young age of 24, others were angered by the nomination since Kurz suggested women should not be allowed to wear burka headscarves in public. He also made headlines by suggesting that imams should use German only when speaking to Muslims in mosques in Austria.Polls show that many Austrians doubt that Kurz has the ability to improve the heated climate regarding integration issues. The politician called for a chance for himself, the office and the topic as well as for a serious debate. Kurz told magazine News: “I want to achieve that more migrants are proud of Austria. (…) All of us will have to take many small steps.”Kurz warned of a “huge problem ahead” if nothing is done about Austria’s demographic development. Long-term figures show that the birth rate of Austrian women is in decline while statistics for foreign women living in Austria stand in stark contrast to this development. “Previous generations of politicians didn’t show any effort in ensuring the social peace in Austria. We need to tackle demographic issues now,” he said.However, Kurz also admitted that the decision to have a child and thereby start a family was a “personal matter.”Asked how he wanted to raise the birth rate among Austrians, he added: “The state can only try to create the best possible living conditions. It should not – and cannot – interfere in people’s private lives.”The new state secretary for integration said he wanted to position himself between the agitation of the FPÖ – which has also been creating connections between more integration and rising crime figures – and “unrealistic” suggestions of left-wing politicians. Referring to the FPÖ leader’s tendency of labelling himself as a proud Austrian who loves his country, Kurz said: “Strache should know that no one who loves Austria tries to create a split among its citizens.”Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gül appealed to Austria’s Turkish community to learn both German and Turkish. The politician told the Kurier newspaper that Turks living in Austria should try to have fluent German and Turkish “to be more successful for themselves, their families and Austria.”Gül also claimed Austrian education authorities must create better conditions to encourage such developments. Statistics show that many foreigners attend special needs schools because their difficulties in getting along with classmates which are also a result of their lack of speaking any language perfectly. Some experts have said that the second and third generation of Turkish migrants in Austria are better integrated and more interested in a good coexistence with Austrians and in a career than those who settled in the country decades ago.The climate of debating integration aspects worsened dramatically last November after Kadri Ecvet Tezcan, the Turkish ambassador in Vienna, said he would relocate the United Nations (UN) from the Austrian capital were he the secretary-general of the international organisation due to some Austrians’ attitude towards Turks. He also accused Austrians of being only interested in other cultures when on holiday.The government coalition of Social Democrats and the ÖVP reacted with outrage to the remarks, while the FPÖ felt confirmed in their critical approach to the issue.The Turkish government decided not to remove Teczan from his position after his disputed statements made in an interview with Viennese newspaper Die Presse.Only a few weeks after the interview was published, pollster Karmasin found that 61 per cent of Austrians oppose a Turkish accession to the European Union (EU). Around 59 per cent of citizens said the same in May 2009.