Austria calls for deportation centres to host Afghan refugees after Taliban takeover

Hardline stance suggested as alternative to sending migrants back to Kabul

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Austria has called for the establishment of “deportation centres” in countries near Afghanistan to house people fleeing the country.

The chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, said the plan was an option other than deporting Afghans to their homeland, a practice that earned his a rebuke by human rights organisations before Kabul’s collapse to the Taliban.

“If deportations are no longer possible because of the restrictions imposed on us by the European Convention on Human Rights, alternatives must be considered,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

“Deportation centres in the region around Afghanistan would be one possibility. That requires the strength and support of the European Commission. I will suggest it at the council of interior ministers,” Mr Nehammer said, an apparent reference to a meeting of EU interior ministers on Wednesday.

Austria was one of six EU member states that asked the European Commission last week not to halt the deportation of Afghans whose applications for asylum had been rejected.

Since then, the Taliban have made a lighting advance and three of the six countries – Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands – have reversed course.

He and Mr Schallenberg suggested the meeting could be expanded to include foreign ministers so as to co-ordinate policy on Afghanistan. But soon afterwards, the bloc’s foreign policy chief called a foreign ministers’ meeting on Afghanistan for Tuesday.

Mr Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party has long taken a hardline stance on immigration. It has won every parliamentary election since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, in which the country took in more than one per cent of its population in asylum seekers.

But it governs in coalition with the left-wing Greens, many of whom oppose continuing deportations to Afghanistan.

The far-right Freedom Party has accused the conservatives of false firmness, saying Austria had not deported any Afghans in two months.

Last week, the Osterreich newspaper published the results of a public opinion poll in which up to 90 per cent of respondents backed the government on immigration.

It linked the support to a high-profile criminal case in June in which four Afghans were arrested over the drugging, rape and death of a 13-year-old girl in Vienna.

Updated: August 17th 2021, 6:36 AM