Vienna, AUSTRIA, ( RNC ) Correspondent, 19 June 1997.
An international human rights group on Thursday
criticised Austria's asylum policies as restrictive and said foreigners
were often ill-treated by police and detained in poor conditions. The International
Helsinki Federation (IHF) said in its annual report for 1996 that xenophobic
attitudes persisted in Austria and that the government's policies on immigration
were a key concern.
"These (policies) seriously restricted the right to asylum, protection
of family life and family reunification," the report said. The Vienna-based
group said last year 716 individuals were granted political asylum in Austria
-- amounting to eight percent of all applications. The government in March
introduced a package aimed at tightening immigration laws and giving preference
to Austrians in the job market, where unemployment of the workforce, is
creating growing public concern. In May 4.4 percent of the workforce were
Far-right Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider has
won huge support for his anti-foreigner policies in election campaigns
over the past four years. In European Parliament elections last October
his party soared to an all-time high of 28 percent of the vote to become
Europe's largest far-right grouping.
The IHF said it was also concerned by the practice
of returning asylum seekers and immigrants to "safe third countries" from
which they were often repatriated to their country of origin where they
faced potential danger. The conditions in custody prior to expulsion were
unacceptable, with overcrowding and poor sanitation, it added. According
to the 1996 report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture,
detainees had reported being beaten or kicked by police and even occasionally
The European Union (EU) this month said it was
setting up a centre in Vienna to carry out research to find ways of fighting
xenophobia and anti-semitism in the 15-nation EU. Racism and intolerance
toward the 30,000 Roma living in Austria had also increased, the IHF said,
citing a string of 20 letterbomb attacks over the past four years, aimed
at minority groups and politicians and organisations that work with foreigners.
In 1995, four Roma men were killed when they tried to remove a racist sign
saying "Roma back to India," setting off a booby-trapped bomb. Austrian
police have so far failed to catch the perpetrators.