Tough measure irks immigrants

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The Independent Online
FOREIGNERS living in Austria will have to keep their eyes peeled for immigration officials carrying measuring tapes following the adoption of a tough new anti-immigration law threatening many of them with deportation because their flats are too small.

The bizarre law, adopted on 1 July, requires immigrants to have accommodation measuring 10 sq m (107 sq ft) per person if they are to qualify for a residence permit. Those who do not have the space, some 18 per cent of the half-million immigrants in the country, have been put on notice that they may be summarily deported.

Like other Western European countries, Austria, which once welcomed refugees from East Europe, now summarily runs them out if it finds they have a 'manifestly unfounded' case for asylum. The Interior Ministry has said no more Bosnian refugees will be accepted and there has been a dramatic drop in the numbers trying to enter the country.

The crackdown against foreigners has been coming for some time. In June 1992 Vienna passed the Fremdengesetz (Foreigners Act) making it hard to obtain political asylum. Some 95 per cent of 'refugees' in Austria do not have residence permits, and under the Fremengesetz illegal residents can be jailed. Less than 3 per cent of asylum-seekers make it into the country.

Those who arrive at airports get a decision within a few hours and, according to the European Consultation on Refugees and Exiles, the vast majority are put on the next plane home. This happens despite the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees that flatly prohibits expulsion of a refugee, especially those fleeing wars and persecution.

The anti-immigrant laws are having the desired effect: in the first six months of 1992, there were 11,875 applications for asylum; in the first half of 1993, there were 2,490.

The legal perimeter fence around the country is similar to that which the EC has been building for the past few years, under which asylum is refused when a refugee has travelled through a 'safe country'. But no EC member rates a foreigner's desirability according to the size of his or her flat.

Bernhard Perchinig, spokesman for an organisation that assists foreigners, complained that the new law 'does not take social reality into account', because some 103,000 foreigners living in Austria do not have the requisite space - but neither do 73,000 native Austrians.