Austrian government plans to jail and fine refugees who lie about nationalities

Minister says law will have 'signalling effect' as country seeks to impose cap on migration

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The Independent Online

Asylum seekers who lied to authorities in efforts to stay in Austria could soon be jailed and fined as part of a proposed law.

Cabinet members agreed draft legislation on Tuesday that would bring in prison sentences of up to three weeks and €5,000 (£4,200) in penalties in a move one minister said aimed to dissuade migrants from trying to settle in the country.

The perceived prioritisation of Syrians over other nationalities has led a minority of people from countries including Afghanistan to lie about their origin in the belief it will help them gain protection in Europe.

Austria election highlights anti-immigrant mood

But Austria’s government is among those steadily tightening asylum laws amid growing anti-migrant sentiment. The anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly lost Sunday’s presidential election, has been leading opinion polls with around 33 per cent for months.

The ruling coalition of the conservative People's Party (OVP) and Social Democrats (SPO) have taken note and are already punishing those who stay in Austria after being ordered to leave fines of up to €15,000 and six week prison sentences.

“Certainly these (measures) have in part a signalling effect,” said the junior economy minister, Harald Mahrer, when asked if the latest proposals were designed to scare off migrants. 

“What kind of rule of law would we have in the republic if we said we do not punish these things?”

The bill needs the approval of Vienna’s parliament before it passes into law.

The left-wing Greens criticised the bill and called for the costs of accepting asylum seekers to be spread among EU member states.

“That way you can stop the nationalist competition for who can scare off asylum seekers the most,” said Alev Korun, one of the party’s congresswomen.

Austria has announced a cap on asylum claims of 37,500 this year, having taken in 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, and will cut the threshold to 35,000 next year.

The interior ministry said it had received 37,000 asylum applications by the end of October, but only counted 30,000 as relevant to the cap as it strips out certain cases, including those it believes should be processed in other countries.

Denmark and Sweden are among the other European countries to toughen asylum laws or tightened border controls in recent months as EU members continue to refuse quotas to resettle migrants arriving in the continent. 

More than 350,000 asylum seekers have reached Europe by sea so far in 2016, with more than 4,700 dying on treacherous crossings, making 2016 the deadliest year on record.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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