UNHCR Criticizes Austria: Chechen Asylum Seekers Under Fire
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticized that Austrian authorities declining to granting refugee status of asylum seekers from Chechnya.
UNHCR spokesman Roland Schönbauer claimed in an ÖRF radio interview on August 12, 2009, that there had been a decline in Austrian approval of asylum applications by Chechens that did not correspond to reality on the ground. According to datas of UNCHR, only one of three Chechen asylum seekers may Grant refugee status in Austria.
ÖRF radio reported that only 30 per cent of such applications were being approved at present, compared to 80 per cent two years ago.
After this interview, Austrian President Heinz Fischer has dismissed criticism of Austrian asylum policy from the UNHCR in an interview in Tiroler Tageszeitung newspaper on August 13, 2009.
But Fischer said he personally rejected “a cowardly asylum policy” and would intervene with the interior ministry in cases in which there had been “an inhumane response” by Austrian officials or in which decisions had been made that had not been in accordance with the law. Fischer also called for “a sensible and just sharing of the burden of asylum seekers among European countries”.
Green party foreign-affairs spokesman and former party leader Alexander Van der Bellen called on Austria to keep its doors open to Chechen refugees.
But Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) General Secretary Martin Strutz said most Chechens were “problem asylum seekers.”
The controversy about Chechen asylum seekers comes after the Austrian Interior Ministry said that asylum applications had soared in the first six months of the year.
The ministry said applications had risen by 40.6 per cent in the first half of 2009 to 7,518, compared to 5,347 in the same period of 2008, and by 60 per cent in June to 1,298, compared to 815 in the same month last year.
People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter has proposed amending the law on foreigners to speed up deportations and hinder failed asylum seekers from going underground to escape eventual deportation. Fekter also wants to be able to deport foreigners who have been granted asylum if they have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to at least one year in prison.
Austria had the highest recognition rate for asylum applications by Chechens in EU countires during last years.