Haider: Keep overseas refugees out of Europe

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The Independent Online

Austria's notorious far-right populist, Jörg Haider, reasserted his well-documented hostility to foreigners yesterday, with demands that non-Europeans should be banned from seeking asylum in his country.

In comments that brought swift condemnation from human rights organisations, Mr Haider argued that refugees from other continents should no longer be granted residence in Europe while their requests were being processed. They should wait in "safe third states" in Asia or Africa, he said.

Mr Haider, former leader of the far-right Freedom Party, has a long track record of similar views and it will surprise few that he has sought to take advantage of the aftermath of the attacks on America. He remains governor of the southern Carinthia province, but handed the leadership of the Freedom Party to Susanne Riess-Passer in May last year. Peter Westenthaler, who leads the Freedom Party faction in parliament, said Mr Haider's demands reflected those of the party leadership.

Human rights organisations reacted quickly. Heinz Patzelt, a spokesman for the Austrian chapter of Amnesty International, described the proposal as "totally contrary to human rights, existing [national] law and international law".

He accused Mr Haider of abusing current fears caused by the terrorist attacks in the United States "to derive political advantage under the title of a 'fight against terrorism'."

Beat Schuller, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Austria, also rejected Mr Haider's plan, saying: "Clearly, we are shocked." Mr Haider had put into question "the whole catalogue of human rights", he added.

European MPs also reacted with outrage. Simon Murphy, Labour leader in the European Parliament, said: "This flies in the face of the fundamental values underlying the EU. We are a community based on shared values of tolerance, democracy and respect for human rights."

Mr Haider's past praise of aspects of the Nazi regime and his xenophobic and anti-EU statements prompted temporary diplomatic sanctions against Austria last year, when the Freedom Party was added to the coalition government.

The government's biggest party distanced itself from Mr Haider's views yesterday. The interior Minister, Ernst Strasser, a member of Chancellor Wolfgang Schössel's Austrian People's Party, argued: "Here in Austria, we adhere to the constitution."

Andrea Kuntzl of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said Mr Haider and Mr Westenthaler were abusing the "terrible terrorist attacks in the United States for xenophobic sentiments and an anti-foreigner campaign at the lowest level." Theresia Stojsits, a champion of foreigners' rights in the opposition Green Party, said Mr Haider's comments were sickening.

Austria, now regarded as a country tough on asylum-seekers, has a postwar history of accommodating refugees. It fed and sheltered about 90,000 from Bosnia, who fled the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, and accepted thousands from Latin America, Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other developing countries.