During the year many countries in the EU and Southeast Europe experienced an unprecedented wave of migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, consisting of a mix of asylum seekers/potential refugees, economic migrants, and trafficking victims, among others. For simplicity, this report will refer to these populations as ‘migrants and asylum seekers’ if more specific information is not available.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees.
The law gives the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA) responsibility for handling asylum applications. Established on January 1, the BFA operated nine regional directorates (one in each federal state) and three reception centers. In addition to processing asylum applications, the BFA is responsible for alien police matters (return decisions and custody pending deportation) and certain decisions on humanitarian stays. The Federal Administrative Court in Vienna is the appeals body for decisions of the BFA and has branches in Linz, Graz, and Innsbruck. Access to the administrative high court is limited to cases involving principal legal policy questions.
As of December 10, approximately 81,900 persons had applied for asylum in the country during the year, compared with 28,000 in 2014. Administrative proceedings were often lengthy, particularly as the country became a major destination for migrants and asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. During the year the government started to decentralize admission procedures and, with a law that entered into force in October, distribute asylum seekers more fairly among the country’s states and municipalities.
The sharp increase in asylum seekers led to significant overcrowding of the private contractor operated Federal Reception Center East at Traiskirchen, Lower Austria. In August, Amnesty International criticized conditions there, in particular deficiencies in shelter, medical care, hygiene, and services for minors. During an August visit a UNHCR representative also characterized conditions in the camp as “inhumane” and appealed to authorities to stop accepting new arrivals as hundreds were sleeping outside without shelter due to overcrowding. On August 5, the government temporarily stopped accepting new arrivals there, with the Interior Minister calling the situation “no longer tolerable for the asylum-seekers,” and authorities took measures to improve conditions. In September after the numbers of asylum seekers in the center decreased, a visiting EU commissioner gave a positive assessment of conditions at the center.
From October to November, the number of asylum seekers arriving daily at Traiskirchen decreased from to 600 to 80. As the center could provide heated accommodation for a maximum of 1,700-1,800 asylum seekers, additional persons, with the exception of minors, women, families with small children, and persons with special needs, were referred to emergency shelters or NGOs after their registration as asylum seekers. In December the Traiskirchen center set up a heated tent with a capacity for approximately 150 persons as an additional facility for arriving asylum seekers to register. Capacity at the Traiskirchen center was insufficient due to the difficulty of relocating record numbers of asylum seekers to housing across the country’s nine provinces. The establishment of additional, smaller initial reception centers in other parts of the country in the course of the year provided some relief for Traiskirchen. Implementation of a federal law that went into effect in October, allowing the government to enforce distribution of asylum seekers in municipalities across the country, resulted in accommodation for additional 3,000 asylum seekers. As of December the Traiskirchen center housed 1,685 asylum seekers.
Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country is cooperating with UNHCR and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinate measures for integration of refugees. In addition to the high number of asylum seekers, the country initiated a resettlement program for Syrian refugees. The country has bilateral agreements with several countries on implementing the return of rejected asylum seekers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transited a country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. In response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the government in 2011 effectively halted the return of asylum seekers to Greece. This practice remained in effect during the year.
Starting at the end of August, during a major wave of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the country from Hungary and destined for Germany, authorities performed random checks and allowed refugees to transit to Germany. In August authorities increased vehicle checks along the border with Hungary after the discovery of 71 migrant bodies in a truck on an Austrian highway where the migrants were presumably en route to Germany from Hungary.
Employment: While asylum seekers and refugees are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal employment, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the employee.
Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2014 the government provided subsidiary protection to 3,609 individuals who might not qualify as refugees.
According to UNHCR there were 570 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2014. Stateless persons in the country are largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who are unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities do not deport them because of their lack of a home country. There are laws to remediate statelessness partially. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching age 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and are able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.