More North Africans seek asylum in Austria

The number of requests for political asylum in Austria by people from North Africa has increased in the wake of the unrest in the region, new figures show.

Official statistics presented today (Tues) reveal that 23 Libyans asked for asylum in Austria between January and June of this year. Only two refugees from the civil war-hit country arrived in Austria in the first six months of 2010. The number of Syrian refugees rose from 69 to 156, while 84 Tunisians applied for asylum in the first half of 2011, up from 26. The number of Egyptian asylum seekers increased from 33 to 52. Immigration officials did not register any refugees from Bahrain. Only two residents of Yemen fled to the Alpine country which joined the European Union (EU) in 1995.

The overall number of appeals for asylum shot up by 15.75 per cent from the first six months of 2010 to the same time span of the current year when 5,821 requests were handed in. Afghans and Russians were represented most strongly among asylum seekers.

The interior ministry of People’s Party (ÖVP) official Johanna Mikl-Leitner is unable to provide final figures over how many people were allowed to stay as many cases are still being dealt with. Speeding up procedures to create clear circumstances for asylum seekers, carers at refugee centres and immigration officials has been identified as one of Mikl-Leitner’s main priorities.

The former Lower Austrian social affairs councillor was sworn in as federal interior minister only in April. She joined the ÖVP cabinet of ministers after party leader Michael Spindelegger appointed ex-interior minister Maria Fekter as finance minister. The changes were needed after Josef Pröll’s resignation as ÖVP chairman, vice chancellor and finance minister.

Officials at Austria’s two major centres for asylum seekers in Amstetten, Lower Austria, and Thalham in Upper Austria explained their institutions were currently not over-occupied – in contrast to 2009 and last year. Back then, the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP engaged in an intense debate over whether the country needed more such centres, stricter immigration laws – or both.

The interior ministry’s figures from today also show that, with 4,193, most asylum seekers were men. Data further reveals that Turks are third among refugees’ nationalities, followed by people from Nigeria and Pakistan.

Refugees fleeing the impoverished African state of Somalia have the best chances of being granted a residence permit in Austria at around 75 per cent, long-term figures have shown. Sociologists and immigration experts have asked officials to do more about informing Austrians about asylum seekers’ rights and their dismal situation as surveys show that many residents of the Alpine state are not aware that refugees are not allowed to work as long as their requests are being negotiated.

The latest asylum seekers data comes on the back of news that – with 114,000 – 7,000 more people migrated to Austria in 2010 than in the previous year. Around 87,000 left the country last year. Germans are the largest community of foreigners in Austria with 220,000 members, followed by people from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo (209,000). While Germans are generally regarded as well integrated, right-wing political forces like the Freedom Party (FPÖ) have spurned a debate over the immigrants from other countries who allegedly do too little about integrating themselves. Non-government organisations (NGOs) have criticised the FPÖ but also the right-wing branch of the ÖVP and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) for blatantly linking information about immigration and asylum seekers with crime figures.