Austria to seize refugees’ mobiles and demand cash

Asylum seekers will be forced to hand over their mobile phones and up to 840 euros ($1,040) in cash to the authorities, under measures approved by the Austrian cabinet on Wednesday.

Austria to seize refugees' mobiles and demand cash
FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache (R) and then secretary Herbert Kickl unveil the party's posters reading "Islamification should be stopped" ahead of last year's election. Photo: AFP

The money will be put towards the costs of their applications, while authorities will examine whether geo-location data from refugees' phones match  their accounts of how they arrived in the country.

If the applicant is found to have previously entered another European  country where the so-called “Dublin regulation” is in force, they could be  sent back there. 

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ)  said his aim was a “restrictive and enforceable law regarding the rights of  foreigners” in order to end “abuse” of the asylum system.

The measures are due to be voted through by parliament in the next few  weeks.

In last year's parliamentary election, a crackdown on immigration was one  of the FPOe's key themes and was also adopted by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and  his centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).

Austria received more than 150,000 asylum applications — almost 2 percent  of its total population of 8.7 million — following the migration crisis of  2015.

'Intrusion into privacy'

The measures announced on Wednesday also mean that refugees will only be able to apply for Austrian citizenship after ten years, as opposed to six  previously.

Deportations of asylum applicants convicted of crimes will also be speeded  up.

Human rights pressure group SOS Mitmensch denounced the measures.

“When the last bit of cash is taken away from men, woman and children, who  already have very little, it's debilitating for those concerned,” the group  said, adding that the measures would make integration more difficult.

The seizure of mobile phone data would be a “serious intrusion into  people's privacy”, it said, while the plan to make applying for citizenship harder was “political posturing” to conceal the fact that the process is  already very difficult.

Last week Kickl said he would push EU colleagues to end the possibility of asylum applications being made in Europe. He wants a system where people can  only apply for asylum in so-called “transit zones”, outside the EU's borders.

He previously caused controversy earlier this year by saying he wanted to  “concentrate” asylum-seekers in certain places, employing a word widely associated with Nazi camps.

READ ALSO: Austria's far-right interior minister provokes outrage with call to 'concentrate' migrants

For members


What is Vienna’s MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The city of Vienna now has several new appointment slots for a 'first information meeting' for those wanting to apply for Austrian citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

What is Vienna's MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, MA 35, is known for long waiting periods, delays and even mistakes being made in applications. It has recently received renewed criticisms as new appointments for Austrian citizenship were not open until mid-2023.

Things got even worse, and applicants now have to wait until October 2023 to get the first appointment. Only after this meeting will they receive another date (sometimes also a year later) to submit the documents asked. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

Green politician Aygül Berivan Aslan said the reform of MA 35 had “failed”. She said she welcomed the SPÖ’s push towards simplifying access to citizenship but felt that “theory and practice do not match”. Speaking in the Viennese parliament, she introduced a motion for a six-month evaluation of the office.

Aslan also proposed that in the case of delays of more than six months, citizenship costs should be waived for applicants. 

Stadt Wien service screenshot

How bad is the situation?

Not only do people have to wait months for a first talk and then months to submit documents, but once their part is done, the wait is not over. There are currently 3,800 procedures pending for more than half a year in the MA 35, Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Integration Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) said.

He justified delays saying that the number of applications had risen by around 30 percent his year in Vienna – only last month, there were 600 appointments booked. 

“The sharp increase can be explained by the eligibility of refugees from 2015 to apply for citizenship as well as by uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine”, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

He added that the goal would need to be “simplifying the procedures nationwide”. However, Wiederkehr also said there were reforms still being implemented in the MA 35.

Wiederkehr said: “On the part of the city, there are ongoing staff increases at MA 35. The training of the employees is so complex that it takes about a year.” 

“In addition to the increase in staff, there was an analysis to optimise some work processes, as well as intensive training. Digitalisation is also being accelerated”, he added.