Austria and India strike deal to curb illegal migration

India to take back failed asylum seekers in return for easier legal migration

Austria says many asylum seekers have reached its borders via Serbia and Hungary. AP
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Austria announced a migration deal with India on Monday to curb asylum claims it regards as hopeless.

India has agreed to take back failed asylum seekers after a year of “exploding numbers” at Austria’s borders, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.

In return, Austria said it will make legal migration easier for Indian students and workers.

Mr Schallenberg said he welcomed Indian expats but that migration should be “controlled by states and not by organised crime and human traffickers”.

“The problem is not migration, to be very clear. We want that, we need that. The problem is illegal immigration,” Mr Schallenberg said.

Austria has raised the alarm in recent weeks over what it said were tens of thousands of unregistered migrants at its borders, described by ministers as a security risk.

It said many were from India, Tunisia and other countries that Austria regards as safe, meaning asylum claims were unlikely to succeed.

About 18,000 people sought asylum from India in 2022, although numbers have gone down after nearby Serbia closed a visa loophole, Mr Schallenberg said.

Many people from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Morocco and Turkey also sought asylum in Austria.

On a visit to Vienna, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar supported Austria in drawing a distinction between legal and illegal migration.

Mr Jaishankar said Indians wanted a fair and legal opportunity to show their skills and talent in Austria.

But “irregular movement not only enhances the vulnerability of the people involved but is inherently exploitative,” he said.

India has signed similar migration and mobility partnerships with Britain, Germany, France, Denmark and others.

Austria used the Balkan border crisis as justification to veto Romania and Bulgaria’s membership of the visa-free Schengen zone.

It said Schengen was not working when so many people were crossing the zone’s outer borders and reaching landlocked Austria, infuriating Romania which said the two issues were unconnected.

There was no Austrian veto of Croatia, which joined both Schengen and the eurozone on New Year’s Day.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer sought to patch things up with Bulgaria on the sidelines of a traditional New Year’s concert in Vienna, which was also attended by India’s Mr Jaishankar.

After talks with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Mr Nehammer said he would support EU funding for new border fences between Bulgaria and Turkey.

EU leaders will tackle the migration issue, invariably a thorny subject in Brussels, at a special European Council meeting in February.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 1:29 PM
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