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Austria gets tough on illegal immigrants

A new proposed Austrian law lets police detain immigrants while their asylum applications are being reviewed. Parliament's lower house passed the so-called Foreigners' Rights Bill on July 7. Austria's upper house will vote on the proposal on July 21.

The Austrian government is trying to clamp down on immigrants. Newspapers increasingly blame foreigners for crime, which increased 6.9 percent in the first quarter and an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. About 64 percent of 3,667 drug-related arrests last year were foreigners, according to police figures.

Most of the 4,222 asylum seekers who arrived in Austria through June this year fled from war-torn places including Chechnya and Afghanistan. After receiving more than 2 million immigrants during the Cold War, newspapers are questioning if the country is absorbing too many people. "Austrians Fear Foreign Workers'' read a July 15 headline in Vienna daily Der Standard.

"Austria thinks of itself as having a tradition of receiving refugees and accommodating them,'' said United Nations spokesman Roland Schoenbauer. "In some respects it's a myth because many of those people used to move on to different countries. Now they're staying.''

With Suspicion

Austria took in one refugee for every 1,942 residents in the first quarter this year, according to the United Nations. France, the country that admitted the most refugees last year, has one asylum seeker for every 3,867 residents. The U.S. lets one asylum seeker in for every 29,808 citizens.

About 9 percent of Austria's 8.2 million people are foreign born, according to the UN's High Commission for Refugees. More than 45 percent of prisoners in Austrian jails are foreigners, weekly magazine Profil reported on June 27. Nigerians, Serbs and Turks are the most arrested groups.

New laws promise to speed up asylum seekers' hearings. Daily Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper said July 5 a Kurdish refugee waited 12 years for a decision on whether he can stay.

Campaign Issue

The number of new immigrants to Austria since 2000 almost tripled to 50,582 last year, the United Nations said in a May 2005 report. The unemployment rate, already 1.1 percentage points higher than in 2004, will rise, said Julia Bock-Schappelwien, an analyst at Vienna's Wifo economic institute. Wifo cut its forecast on July 1 for Austrian 2005 economic growth to 1.8 percent from 2.2 percent.

Austria's populist right-wing Freedom Party will put immigration at the center of its campaign, daily Die Presse said June 30. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who wants to remove foreigners from Austria, ran a billboard campaign in April under the slogan "Vienna shouldn't become Istanbul.'' More than 120,000 Turkish people live in Austria, 40,000 of them in Vienna, said Anita Hoefner, a spokeswoman at the national statistics bureau.

Austria's new law will cost around 14 million euros to implement after it is passed, Schoenbauer estimates. It's the second new asylum bill the country has written since 2003.

"The money could be spent in better ways by helping people to integrate into society.'' said Schoenbauer, a native Austrian.