More than 243,000 asylum applications were made in Germany in 2022. This puts the Federal Republic at the forefront in the European Union and bears a burden that seems to be overwhelming for some local authorities in this country. The situation is different in the German neighbor Austria. In 2022, with around 112,000 asylum applications, in fourth place behind Germany, France and Spain, a reversal was initiated there in terms of asylum.
The driver of the asylum turnaround is Austria’s conservative Minister of the Interior, Gerhard Karner (ÖVP). With the second most asylum applications in relation to the population, the Alpine republic was even in second place in the entire EU. Accordingly, the black-green government has made it its goal to “intensively apply the brakes on asylum”, as Karner puts it.
Asylum in Germany and Austria: Applications unequal protection
The first successes are becoming apparent in the first half of 2023. The number of asylum applications continues to decline. In June of this year, 5,002 people applied for asylum in Austria. This corresponds to a decrease of almost 50 percent compared to the same month last year with 9733 asylum applications.
While around 32,300 asylum applications were filed in Austria in the first half of 2022, the number fell by 29 percent to around 22,900 in the same period of 2023. The most common countries of origin are Syria with around 6,600 asylum applications in the first half of 2023, Afghanistan (3,954), Morocco (around 3,279) and Turkey (1,695). For comparison: In Germany, the number of asylum applications rose by 67 percent up to July of this year (162,271). Initial applications have increased by around 78 percent.
However, a look at the population of both countries shows that around 2,600 more applications per capita were made in Austria than in Germany with 1,900. In addition, 12,000 applications were approved in Austria in the first half of 2023. Per capita that makes 1300 per million inhabitants. “If this trend continues, there would be 24,000 positive decisions in 2023,” writes Gerald Knaus, Chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), on X (formerly Twitter).
The bottom line is that Austria is awarding more protection this year than last year. In 2022, fewer than 17,000 applications were approved. This put the country at the top of the EU in terms of protection allocations per capita, with Germany just behind.
Austria’s asylum system as a model for Germany?
Nevertheless, from the point of view of expert Knaus, the Austrian system can serve as a model for other countries, such as Germany: “Unlike Hungary, for example, Austria still has a functioning asylum system,” he writes. According to the Ministry of the Interior, fewer asylum seekers came to Austria in the first half of 2023 than left the country (around 23,000 compared to 28,000).
The strategy in Vienna: Accelerated asylum procedures, border controls at home and abroad, combating smuggling, increased deportations, the use of innovative technology in border protection and international cooperation.
Acceleration of the asylum procedure and the “Task Force Deportations”
In Austria, more and more quick and urgent procedures are being carried out (a total of 4,360 by the end of the first half of the year), which are completed within 28 days or 72 hours. For comparison: In Germany there are isolated fast-track procedures in arrival centers, accelerated procedures according to § 30a Asylum Act or the so-called airport procedure. The number of deportations in Germany is about the same as in Austria.
In addition, a special unit, the “Task Force Deportations”, is deployed, which carries out intensive checks on a regular basis. A total of 5,872 deportations were carried out in this way, among other things. But: Of the approximately 5,800 people who were affected by a deportation, most are Slovaks, Serbs and Romanians. Asylum seekers are least affected, explained Karoline Preißer, Deputy Director of the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA), when asked at a press conference a week ago.
Overall, as a result of the measures, the number of deportations abroad has increased by 20 percent compared to the first half of 2022 and the number of asylum decisions made by 60 percent, according to Preißer.
Border controls at home and abroad
More than 130 Austrian police officers are currently on duty in Serbia, Hungary and North Macedonia to strengthen border protection. In addition, Austria’s border control measures with its neighbors Hungary and Slovenia were recently extended by a further six months.
With these measures, the government wants to ensure that migrants can no longer easily reach the north via the Western Balkans and Hungary. In addition, 31 Austrian police officers are working together with Hungarian colleagues as part of “Operation Fox”, which was launched in December 2022 to prevent illegal migration and human trafficking at the Austro-Hungarian border.
According to media reports, more than 170,000 migrants from Hungary were returned to Serbia as part of “Operation Fox”. However, these repatriations have been criticized by human rights activists. For the most part, they were carried out in violation of human rights, explained a Hungarian human rights activist in a contribution to the Ö1 “Morgenjournal”.
Innovative technology for border protection
To make the work of the Austrian border guards easier and more effective, the units are equipped with night vision and thermal imaging cameras. In addition, a state-of-the-art drone system with 300 units is used. For comparison: Germany only had two older drone models in use for border protection in 2021. The Austrian border guards have recently been using seven heartbeat sensors to check trucks.
Austria is taking a two-pronged approach here: on the one hand, Vienna relies on close cooperation with its neighboring countries and, on the other hand, the pressure on neighboring countries increases as soon as they fail to meet their obligations. Specifically, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior mentions the end of visa-free travel for people from India and Tunisia in Serbia and the return agreements with India and Morocco.
Last year, 19,500 irregular migrants came to Austria from India, mostly without a visa, via Serbia. In cooperation with the EU Commission, the Serbian government was put under pressure with economic and political sanctions. With success: Serbia adjusted its entry requirements for countries such as India and Tunisia.
In May 2023, India and Austria also signed an agreement on migration and mobility. Within this framework, India undertook to repatriate its citizens who are illegally residing in Austria. Since then, Indian citizens have preferred not to apply for asylum in Austria. Germany also recently had a comparable agreement with India.