Austria To Stop Giving Food, Shelter To Rejected Asylum Seekers

In a bill aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, Austrian lawmakers are considering halting the provision of food and accommodation to migrants who are denied asylum and refuse to leave the country.

Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population, as it was swept up in Europe's migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of people crossed its borders, most on their way to Germany. As Reuters notes, it has since tightened immigration restrictions and helped shut down the route through the Balkans by which almost all those people - many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere - arrived. Asylum applications fell by more than half last year.

Asylum seekers in Austria get so-called basic services, including free accommodation, food, access to medical treatment and 40 euros ($42.41) pocket money a month.

But now, Austria's centrist coalition government on Tuesday agreed on a draft law which would allow authorities to stop providing accommodation and food to rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country.

“The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?”

As Politico reports, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said, said the law, which will need approval by parliament, was designed to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave voluntarily.

According to the minister, some 4,000 people receive basic services but should have left the country. Of those, around half could be affected if the law is passed because they are deemed healthy enough to travel to their home countries.

Most rejected asylum seekers in Austria in 2016 were from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Asylum applicants who lie about their identities face a €5,000 fine or three weeks in jail.

The Austrian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the bill was "highly questionable" and urged lawmakers to think hard about agreeing to it.